HANG TIME, Texas — So Kobe Bryant walked the walk, even if it was with a limp.
After crumbling in a heap two nights earlier with a badly sprained left ankle in Atlanta, the Black Mamba showed up in Indianapolis wearing a look of determination.
And his big boy pants.
After all, since he’d spent time this season giving hints, prods, urges and lectures to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard about playing through pain, how could he not at least hobble out onto the court and try.
He did for 12 minutes, four shots and no points.
But doesn’t he at least get an assist for inspiring his teammates to deliver what some of them called their best game of the season by beating the Pacers?
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times had the lowdown:
“What I told them was ‘I don’t know how much I have, but whatever I have I’m going to give you.’ That’s all my message was to them,” he said.
The Lakers’ reserves, humiliated two nights earlier in Atlanta by a 46-16 margin, snapped back with Blake’s season-high 18 points and seven assists. Jamison had 17 points, combining with Blake to make nine of 14 three-point attempts.
Howard shook off a slow start to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and World Peace had 19 points.
The Lakers held Indiana to 37.4% shooting, probably the stat of the game, if not Bryant experiencing only the 15th scoreless game of his career. Whatever. He tried.
He sat on the bench in the second half with an electro-stim machine in his hands, its wires disappearing into his left sock.
“It was really stiff. Just continued to swell,” he said. “I couldn’t put any weight on it so I had to call it a night.”
Bryant says he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play at home on Sunday against the Kings or even the next two games against the punching bag Suns and Wizards. But watching him remain on the bench in uniform, getting treatment on his ankle all through Friday night’s game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, wouldn’t we all be surprised to see him sitting?
Not that he just sat there watching the rest of the Lakers take on the Pacers. He was constantly offering words of encouragement and suggestions. At one point he even horned in on coach Mike D’Antoni and used a whiteboard to show Howard where the Pacers were sending their double-teams and how to defeat them.
“Mike has got a million things going on in his head, and Steve and Dwight are all out there in the moment. It’s tough to really see all those things,” Bryant said. “I could see them from the sideline.”
Was Bryant auditioning for D’Antoni’s job?
“I guess,” the Lakers coach said dryly. “I don’t know if he wants that or not.”
What Bryant wants, as much as just another win, is to enhance a legacy that is already the stuff of legend and has few goals left to reach. There is clearly that one more championship that would tie him with Michael Jordan and that may or may not be realistic in a season that has seen the Lakers underachieve right from the start.
But as he pursues Jordan, he knows all of the historic high points of the legend, the so-called “flu game” at Utah during The Finals, all of the other times when Jordan simply would not let his own body stop him from achieving.
Bryant knows that pulling this season back from the brink, getting the Lakers into the playoffs and at least giving them a puncher’s chance to deliver a surprise knockout against one of the top seeds, would only gild his reputation further.
Gasol will likely return in the next few days from the foot injury that has kept him out since early February and that will give the Lakers a lift. But nothing will light their fire like the inferno inside of Bryant.
Don’t just do as I say, but do as I do.
That’s the message Kobe delivered without even having to say a word, just wearing his big boy pants.