Kobe Bryant and the fall of a tragic hero

Apr 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) walks with a medical staff member against the Golden State Warriors during the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

That it was an Achilles is fitting, really. The narrative around Kobe Bryant this season was one of a tragic hero, a character so great, and so flawed, that it would have made the Greeks proud. The analogy between Bryant and the tragic Greek warrior fits all the way to their Homeric ideas of how to measure greatness, through glory in battle and rings won in victory.

Kobe’s tragic flaw could be one of many; hubris was the one that helped fell Achilles and fits well as Bryant too defied the basketball gods (and the laws of physics) by thinking he could accumulate so many minutes despite his age. But then again lazy defense and a perpetually selfish mindset could have been the shortcoming that eventually felled him as well.

And like all tragic heroes his fall was one that was painful to watch, if not almost expected. The amount of minutes he was logging had started to become a big story as of late and after seeing him churn out these 40 minute, high usage performances night after night, we were left with a foreboding feeling of when this would all end up being too much. Ultimately it was and when we saw that arrow pierce through this basketball demi-god’s near impenetrable armor, the myth was shattered. A feeling of profound sadness swept over all those watching Kobe gingerly limp away from a game and a moment we’ve seen him take over so many times before, for better or for worse.

Alas, basketball is not played in an ancient Greek theatre and although Aristotle may disagree, it is not an allegory for real life. Kobe Bryant tried to drive past his defender and after making a move he’s made countless times, promptly ruptured his Achilles tendon. As always, blame will get assigned to everyone, from Mike D’Antoni to the Warriors to the ancient Trojans and even to Kobe himself. Reality is Kobe is facing a long and very hard road to recovery (six to nine months to be exact) and the Lakers are faced with a very difficult decision.

Even if the most optimistic prognostications are proved true and Kobe gets back early next season it is almost ludicrous to suggest he will come back the same player, let alone the one who defied the laws of time with how good he was offensively this year. The preliminary plan seemed to be that Kobe would retire in 2014 and the Lakers would go forward with all cleared books other than Steve Nash and a newly signed Dwight Howard. Now it looks as if that plan may need to be accelerated.

The case to amnesty Bryant was put forth excellently here and the long and short of it is, if Bryant chooses to cooperate, he can sit out a year after getting amnestied and then re-sign with the Lakers in 2014 with a presumably better team around him. This would give Bryant a full year to heal and save the Lakers upwards of $85 million worth of cap hits, clearing up enough cap space to upgrade the roster. Seems simple enough in theory but it means asking maybe the most border-line delusionary competitive player since Jordan to sit out a year and watch basketball games from his couch. This is not to mention the embarrassment of getting amnestied, despite it being done with good intentions.

Not only this but the Lakers still need to convince Dwight Howard to re-sign with them. In this scenario Howard will be going into next year with a roster that had trouble securing an eighth seed with Kobe, and everything would now be on him, a scenario he so dearly wanted to escape in Orlando . Additionally, what he has to look forward to is Kobe coming back in 2014 with what is likely to be another long-term contract. Based on their somewhat tumultuous relationship thus far this is not necessarily a good thing.

It is safe to say that the Lakers have some very tough choices to make for the future and are going to have to keep fighting for a playoff spot without the help of their favorite tragic hero. As for Kobe himself, this is where the analogies are forced to end. Kobe has no use for these Greek tragedies and their perpetual obligation to all end in the same uniform way, with the heroes succumbing to the mistakes of their past and unable to escape that pesky tragic flaw. Nobody commands the destiny of Kobe Bryant but Kobe Bryant and whether the story that follows is one of immediate redemption next season or a more prolonged one via amnesty clause, you can be sure it will end with him on the court again, brashly taking (and making) contested 30-footers and trying his damnedest to get his team a win.

Topics: Achilles, Amnesty, Dwight Howard, Injuries, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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