Commentary

It's best to trust Kobe Bryant

After his Game 5 effort coming off injury, it's clear the Lakers' star knows what's best

Updated: April 27, 2011, 6:43 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- If we learned anything in the two days leading up to the Lakers' commanding 106-90 Game 5 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday, it's that people still don't trust Kobe Bryant.

What more does the guy have to do?

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireIf there were any ill effects from his injured ankle, Kobe Bryant rarely showed any signs of them during Game 5.

Following Bryant's balking at getting X-rays or an MRI exam on his left-ankle sprain from late in Game 4, a hoard of armchair doctors took to the talk-radio waves and their Twitter feeds to diagnose his injury.

They called for him to drop the tough-guy act and warned he could be causing further damage down the road. It was too big a risk for the first round against New Orleans, fans cried. What if it were worse than a sprain, like a hairline fracture or even a break?

Now, after Bryant dropped a team-high 19 points in 28 minutes and threw in one of the most highlight-worthy dunks of his "SportsCenter" Top 10-laden career, the only question is: What will he do for an encore?

"I was moving OK and I didn't feel like it was broke or anything like that," Bryant said after Game 5 about his decision to forgo any further evaluation. "If it was, it wouldn't really matter anyway. I would have played anyway. So it would have been a waste of time to go all the way up there and do that and then sit in the 405 traffic for two hours."

Everyone -- fans and Lakers staff included -- should have learned to trust the guy after he has delivered five rings in 15 years.

His legacy means more to him than it means to anyone else, so he wouldn't be putting it in jeopardy for a first-round playoff game unless he was sure he could sustain it.

Bryant said his rehab was "all the time" and "nonstop" from the minute he landed in L.A. after the flight from New Orleans at 3:30 a.m. PT Monday until the moment Game 5 tipped off at 7:30 p.m. PT Tuesday. And he figured a few extra hours of ice and massage would be more beneficial than any information an MRI could provide.

"We iced it all the time, kept it elevated, kept it moving as much as you possibly can," Bryant said. "So, you're not sleeping much, but the ankle mobility is good. That's really the key, to keep it from getting stiff."

The problem was that the seeds of doubt were rooted in speculation when it should have been the time for the seeds of faith to be rooted in trust.

Here are the facts everyone on the outside had to go on:

Immediately after the game on Sunday night, Kobe said he would play.

"It's going to take a lot to stop me from playing," Bryant said. "I'm concerned, as I am about any injury, but I've played through so many of them it kind of becomes old hat for me."

The next day, after practice, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bryant decided he didn't want his ankle evaluated.

"We're trying to convince him that it might be a good idea," Jackson said.

But, even though Jackson said that about the debate over Bryant's diagnostic tests, he still expressed his confidence in Kobe.

"I'm not a great predictor; otherwise we'd be over with this series by now. But I'm going to anticipate that he's going to rise to the occasion and think that that's one of the things where he always has a hole card," Jackson said before Game 5.

Meanwhile, Lakers fans had a whole card deck's worth of ace-in-the-hole experiences that they've watched Bryant draw on to alleviate any concern he couldn't come out and do it again.

He missed Game 3 of the 2000 NBA Finals because of an ankle sprain, and came back with 28 points in Game 4, making up for Shaquille O'Neal's foul trouble, putting the team on his back en route to the overtime victory that gave L.A. a commanding 3-1 series lead.

That was more than a decade ago.

As recently as mid-March, he suffered what he described as the "scariest" ankle sprain of his 15-year career in the third quarter of a game against the Mavericks and was back in the game in the fourth quarter making a key jumper to secure the road win in Dallas.

And there was the parade of injuries he played through last season -- finger fracture, strained elbow, back spasms, right knee swelling and, yes, another ankle sprain -- yet he and the Lakers still reached the promised land.

Bryant walked into Staples Center before the game without the aid of any crutches, but with the comfort of his most trusted teammate, Derek Fisher, walking by his side.

Waiting for them were a bunch of cameras, stationed to capture the coveted "enter the arena" shot. In this case, that shot would tell a story based on how Bryant walked.

"I was trying to walk next to him, that maybe if I walked next to him and was walking old and decrepit, then maybe the focus wouldn't be so much on his limp," Fisher said.

Fisher knows all about how forgetful the fans can be; they seemingly want to run him out of town every fall until he jars their memories about why they should trust him every spring by hitting another string of clutch shots in the playoffs.

"He's going to play," Fisher said. "He plays no matter what's going on. If he has two hands and two feet, he's going to play and he's going to figure it out. We trust him to make those decisions."

For many in today's world, seeing is believing. Maybe it's Bryant's fault for ducking the media the last two days and clearing up his status himself to shut up all the speculation.

He wouldn't have even needed to speak, just showing his face would have sufficed.

"He had that look in his eyes," Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person said. "He was quiet the last couple days. He hardly said a word to anyone."

It was a telling observation because "that look" is the phrase most often used to describe Bryant when he's on a tear by those same talk-radio show callers and Twitter feed @repliers.

The last question posed to Bryant on Tuesday night asked about his status for the Lakers' potential close-out Game 6.

"I'm doubtful for Thursday," Bryant said with wide eyes and a smile.

OK, so you don't have to trust Kobe all the time.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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