While it seemed inevitable that the Los Angeles Lakers were doomed to succumb to the unfamiliar sentiments of mediocrity, in their first 19 games the Lakers have managed to stay afloat in their division. Although the Lakers are currently fourth in their tight division, they’re only two games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the division lead. Normally, the Lakers current record of 10-9 would be looked upon with a sense of disappointment. However, the Lakers perseverance as of late has come in the absence of beloved Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. When he tore his Achilles in April, it seemed hard to imagine that even the formidable Bryant could overcome this devastating injury to return to his former prominence as one of the best players of all time. Yet, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds of a valiant return, Bryant remained determined to come back to lead his team to supreme success. As a result of his unprecedented mental and physical fortitude, Bryant will make his season debut against the Toronto Raptors tonight. While Bryant’s uplifting perseverance and quick return may seem a little pre mature, for a five time world champion, it’s simply a another obstacle that Bryant is anxious to overcome.
Although it’s hard to fathom Bryant returning to form right out of the gate, his dynamic skill set and unwavering toughness give him an advantage to shake off the rust that comes with being away from the game for so long. While many athletes slowly regress as they go through their fair share of chronic injuries, Bryant has only improved as a distinguished athlete. Before his untimely injury, Bryant was making 46.3% of his shots (the last time he made more than 46% of his shots was during the 2008-2009 season) while scoring 27.3 points per game (his average is 25.5 points per game). Undoubtedly, Bryant won’t be able to replicate these statistical accomplishments immediately as he’ll see minimal playing since his last appearance in April. Yet, even if Bryant can only put up between 10-15 points tonight against the Raptors, as long as he can hit his stride as he maneuvers up and down the court, it’ll be an encouraging sign for the Lakers going forward from game to game.
While Kobe’s tangible accolades are key in the Lakers becoming the top dogs in their division again, his intense competitiveness and personal initiative to lead by example is what makes Bryant such a memorable and highly coveted player. Although Bryant’s brash and unabated desire to win may come off as arrogant and oppressive, to anyone who has had the privilege to play with Bryant on a regular basis knows that his unique determination is what allows this franchise to be successfully dominant. Despite their contrasting personalities, Lakers center Pau Gasol has appeared to have developed a personal bond with the confident Bryant. Even when the Lakers were on the verge of being swept during the first round of last year’s playoffs, Bryant was there to lend a reassuring hand to an ailing Gasol who was clearly physically and emotionally exhausted. In that moment before the Lakers season came to a depressing demise, Bryant remained the Lakers stoic and refined leader who kept his head held high despite his teams disappointing performance in the playoffs.
Inevitably, the Lakers will have to go through some growing pains with Bryant as both parties adjust to having their sensational shooting guards return to form. For starters, some of the new faces that have allowed the Lakers to remain relevant will have to get used to Bryant’s unquenchable determination and his one man show displays when he develops a rhythm. Initially, some players, especially Jodie Meeks, may feel slighted because they may believe that their contributions were taken for granted because of Bryant’s highly anticipated return. However, if these young and up and coming athletes can learn from Bryant and develop under his tutelage, they’ll find themselves establishing a new legacy once Bryant retires.
In the end, Bryant’s quick return is an impressive accomplishment that only uplifts Bryant as being one of the best players of all time. Even if he doesn’t return to championship form right away, his determined presence and successful reputation will encourage the Lakers to reach the levels of dominance they have been known for since Bryant became a Laker back in the late 90’s. While Bryant may not be around for much longer, his loyalty to the Lakers organization and his desire to win can only help this franchise in the long run.