- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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Before we heap any more praise on Kobe Bryant for being indestructible these days -- especially as he tries to downplay it by describing himself as "just a tough American kid" -- let's pause for a moment and recognize his backcourt mate Derek Fisher's continued accomplishment.
While Bryant has plowed through injuries this season like that scene in "Terminator 2" when the T-1000 barges through bullets (I know, I know, Bryant also described himself as Bruce Willis in "Diehard" because of his pain threshold, but let's give another late '80s/early '90s movie franchise some shine), it's Fisher who has quietly become one of the league's most consistent clock punchers.
Fisher has played in 370 straight games (Portland's Andre Miller is first with 570) and is still going strong despite turning 35 years old in August. Bryant is fifth on the active list with 223 straight games, or about a season and a half less than Fisher.
(Quick aside: We would be remiss not to mention A.C. Green any time the subject of Lakers ironmen comes up. The Beanie Baby-headed one's all-time NBA mark of 1,192 dwarfs Fisher's and Bryant's measly runs combined.)
It's no surprise that Fisher has kept his streak alive. Have you looked at him lately? He keeps his body in better condition than 90 percent of the players in the league. But his off-court leadership and mentorship of Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar is starting to overshadow his on-court production. Fisher's points per game, field goal percentage and assists per game averages are the lowest they've been since 2003-04.
So, enough about Fish; let's get back to the guy who is just 1.1 points off the NBA scoring lead despite the fact that he has played the past 19 games with an avulsion fracture to his right index finger. Yes, that's his shooting hand.
He has tinkered with the finger -- tape, heavy tape, no tape, metal splint, plastic splint, no splint -- but has kept on playing. He missed a total of half of a game over his past two games combined with severe back spasms -- the entire fourth quarter Tuesday and the entire second quarter Wednesday -- but kept on playing. He bent his left knee like a pipe cleaner against Oklahoma City, but kept on playing. He strained his right elbow in Sacramento -- his shooting elbow -- but kept playing, all the way into double overtime.
"I'm strong enough to be able to play through those injuries," Bryant said Thursday. "I work very hard in the offseason so I have a good base. I might have a pulled hamstring, or groin, or shoulder or whatever the hell [like a] broken finger, I can play through those."
It's funny he mentioned a pulled hamstring as the first inconsequential injury he's able to shrug off, when Pau Gasol's hammies have kept him out of 17 games this season.
About a half hour before Bryant made that comment, Gasol compared his injuries to Bryant's:
"They're different injuries, they're very different," Gasol said. "I've played with back issues. I broke my finger myself and even played with it broken. I know how it feels. I played through a lot of stuff in my career and I like to think that I'm always doing the smart thing and the best thing for the team and I didn't feel like me going out there a couple days after I hurt myself like that and after listening to doctors -- that's the main thing, they know what they're talking about, not us."
I don't think Bryant was full-on calling Gasol out, it's just hard for Kobe to comprehend missing a game for anything.
The last time he did miss one was March 7, 2007, against the Milwaukee Bucks, because he was serving a one-game suspension for striking Marko Jaric in the face. The mounting injuries haven't been able to stop him, but one way he is in danger of snapping his consecutive games streak and bookending it with another suspension is his technical fouls count. Bryant has been T'd up 10 times through 39 games. If he reaches 16 technicals during the regular season (he's on pace for 21), he gets him an automatic one-game ban.
So, his temper and tongue could stop him. Or some combination of the two. But can his body?
"The games that I've missed I've had like sprained ankles," Bryant said. "My ankles were [so bad that] I couldn't walk. The games that I've missed have been injuries like that -- a broken hand. Like the hand is broken. Stuff like that, I can't do nothing about."
He has a good memory.
The last time he missed a game because of injury was Dec. 8, 2006. He was injured early in the third quarter of a 101-87 victory over Indiana on Dec. 4 of that year when he got an offensive rebound and missed an off-balance shot before landing on Pacers center Jeff Foster's right foot and spraining his ankle.
In typical Kobe fashion, he played in the Lakers next game on Dec. 6 against the Hornets and made the ankle worse (even though he scored a team-high 26 points in the 105-89 loss) and had to shut it down on Dec. 8 against the Hawks.
He sat for one game, returned on Dec. 10 against the Spurs, scored a team-high 34 points in the 106-99 win and now is looking at game No. 224 on Friday against the Clippers, some 37 months since last missing a game due to injury.
Going back through it all makes you feel pretty patriotic, doesn't it?
That Kobe really is one tough American kid.
Katie Sharp from ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.
Kobe Bryant gets a lot of credit for being tough, but so should Derek Fisher.