It has often been said that Kobe Bryant whines and gripes, and the truth behind it is at a time when the Los Angeles Lakers are beginning to string together much-needed victories to fight for the eighth spot and qualify for the playoffs is that sometimes he’s overly sensitive.
The Black Mamba is the most fearsome creature of the NBA, and maybe he whines and gripes to referees for a no-call or a play that he felt he was fouled. There is much to love about Bryant, just as there is much to dislike about him. That’s because in the NBA he dazzle crowds with his exceptional play, and for the time being, unhindered and ageless, he’s playing his best basketball. The Lakers caught fire, currently in the eighth spot, a potential danger once Bryant is healthy. The Lakers are right where they want to be late in the season, thus far keeping sole possession of the final playoff spot.
If at some point center Dwight Howard put forth dominant performances, like the night of his return to Orlando, the Lakers can be a threat out west — if Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison comes off the bench and average double-digit points — there is a chance the Lakers can make a strong run. Those familiar with Kobe, known for publicly ripping his underperforming teammates and known to be outspoken, weren’t flabbergasted when Bryant called Dahntay Jones a “dirty” player and sounded off about having to wait to take vengeance. And, of course, he’s enraged over the incident, staring with an evil glare and bleeding to “get revenge,” as there is beef between the two players.
The rage of the Lakers resident superstar unwrapped on a night that Bryant suffered a severe ankle sprain, angrily criticizing Atlanta Hawks swingman for a distasteful foul and said he was Jalen Rose’d. Bryant will almost surely get him back after suffering an injury that can jeopardize the Lakers season. If he’s not, it will be a surprise, but knowing Bryant payback is coming for Jones.
So did Jones intentionally hurt Bryant? If so, it’s not cool but reckless and cruel, and a number of players from around the league are jumping to Kobe’s defense, calling it a low-down play. He will do something about, and Jones knows there will likely be repercussions. The growing anger and the declining sense of respect, the unfolded bitterness, will bring out another side to him while his injured ankle heals. It won’t undo what’s been done, though, and the damage can’t be repaired. Or, as happened during which rival Raja Bell nearly decapitated Bryant’s head in Game 5 of the Lakers/Suns series in 2006, maybe he won’t hold a grudge against Jones and will choose to move on and may even lobby for him to come play for the Lakers.
He’s not in the best mood, but he will eventually get over it, particularly when he returns to action. And more importantly, when he’s in full health. Following a severe injury to Bryant that could force him to miss action, and surely as he’s a hero in Laker lore, he truly doesn’t want to be listed as being out indefinitely. It is simply more important, more paramount, without risking his health in a game the Lakers can stand a chance with contributions from Steve Nash and Howard, to rest Bryant who is recovering and will hopefully be in good shape for the playoffs if the team holds on to the eighth seed.
The reality is that Bryant is unhealthy, late in the season. The Lakers, whether or not they will admit it, stands around and expects so much of Bryant. Minus the greatest scorer on earth, the best finisher in basketball, it allows the Lakers to believe and have confidence while Bryant watches from the sideline in pain. There is no question that someone else will have to step up and take over offensively until Bryant is healthy.
He has shown that no one will bully or victimize him without him retaliating, or maybe he’s just talking to lash out at Jones, angry and incensed with the way he defended him, giving him an earful when he spoke to the media shortly after being injured on a play that clearly looked spineless. The feeling won’t ever be the same, and without apology, Jones is a loser to Bryant, even if he reiterates that he feels bad and didn’t intentionally try to hurt the Lakers star.
“I didn’t try to intentionally come up under him,” Jones said to ESPN. “I was trying to play as hard as I could, to compete at a high level, to try to help my team win and try to contest the jump shot.
“I didn’t want to give up on the play. I take pride in how hard I compete and not give up on plays, and that’s all I was trying to do. It would be very hard for me in a nine- second span to be able to play defense and gauge where I could get my foot up under his as I’m looking at the ball and trying to contest the jump shot.”
Of course, Bryant was fuming after the game and has not bought into what Jones had to say. He is mad for suffering an injury, for not getting the foul call he asked for late in the game. Bryant is a remarkable talent and had been playing brilliantly, but unfortunately went down with sprained left ankle in the closing seconds of Lakers’ loss to the Hawks. No injury, of course, is truly inevitable in sports, but Bryant said Jones undercut him on a jumper from the wing.
The theater of insanity happened on Atlanta’s home floor Tuesday night involving Jones and Bryant, who came down on Jones’ foot. He does not have the ability to stop Bryant, and in Jones’ effort to defend him, the NBA acknowledged that he fouled Lakers guard. It’s not over, a feud that will probably last until Bryant meets Jones again. Kobe, who never fears anything or anyone, wasn’t afraid to respond and stand up for what he considered was “dirty and dangerous” and, in this case, Jones’ foul on Kobe was dirty. It was not the first time Jones had problems with Bryant on the court. Remember, Jones intentionally tripped Bryant during a playoff game in 2009.
“As defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players,” Bryant said. “That’s dangerous for the shooter.”
He later tweeted: “#dangerousplay that should have been called. Period.”
There is anger and there is resentment, neither of which is good for the game. Bryant, clearly sullen and angry over ankle sprain calling it his worst sprain since 2000 when he missed Game 3 of the NBA Finals, has been performing at a high level and willed the Lakers to substantial victories.
With Bryant not even close to approaching the twilight of his career — although he’s considering retiring from the game after his current contract expires to bring an era of distinction and transcendence to an end — it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bryant growling and snarling next time they meet. Since he has the most hideous facial expression in sports, more hideous than Craig Sager’s wardrobe, Bryant might be scorching the net that night and scowling next time he’s on the floor with Jones.
In a time when much is at stake, more than ever, Bryant was playing with toughness and aggressiveness, with a strong supporting cast finally stepping up. In a time when emotions are running high, while Bryant’s passion and obsession for the game still burns, viciously, he won’t back down from anything or anyone. There is nothing, amazingly, Bryant cannot do or say on the court, and to this day, he reigns so dominant and supreme.
The Lakers, which were once favored to make a deep run in the playoffs that even non-Laker fans did not envision the team to be a disappointment, are now poised and focused on a playoff run because of their sense of urgency and determination to play together as a cohesive unit.
Bryant is not too happy, and thinks he was done dirty. Watch out for Bryant’s sharp teeth and fangs. The Black Mamba is seeking payback.