My first thought: Show the video (also here) to a panel of NBA bruisers (right this way Mr. Maxiell, Mr. Mutombo, and Mr. Mahorn) and they will laugh. No way a superstar would be suspended from a playoff game for using a little extra zeal in evacuating himself from a Ron Artest armpit clamp.
That's life in the paint! That kind of elbow gets thrown in the NBA. I don't know if it's right, or fair, but I do know I have seen it happen far more than I have seen suspensions.
For that reason alone, I can't fight the feeling that one way or another, Bryant will play.
But there are competing realities.
Now whether or not Bryant will be suspended is wholly in the hands of the league office, where things sometimes happen with their own magical logic. (Rajon Rondo's game-changing blow to Brad Miller's face was not flagrant, you see, because he did not "wind up.") Much of the NBA rulebook, when it comes to rough play, is written in such a way that it can be interpreted essentially however the NBA wants.
There are a few exceptions, however. Some rules are clear and ironclad.
Phoenix fans will tell you about that leaving the bench thing. And Dwight Howard will tell you that elbows that connect above the shoulders are met with suspensions.
And as hard-and-fast rules go, that last one strikes me as one of the easiest to appreciate. Anyone piping up for high elbows? In my pickup game, all kinds of contact are considered part of the game. But an elbow to the head, or close -- everyone knows that's crossing a line. It may be something that happens in some basketball games, but not part of basketball.
To me the question in this Bryant case is: Was this an elbow above the shoulders?
Distressing that, even though there must have been three dozen still and video cameras combined at the end of the floor where the play actually happened (Stop the video at the moment of impact -- a fan in the stands has a flash going off at that precise instant. I want to see that photo!) we are left to read the tea leaves from behind.
My best guess, from looking at the video and freeze frames of it, is that Bryant did not get Artest above the shoulders. But if I were Stu Jackson, I wouldn't rule until I found the good image of this play from the other side ... which simply must exist somewhere.
Either Kobe Bryant elbowed Ron Artest in the throat, or he elbowed him in the chest. If it was the chest, then of course he can and should suit up for Game 3 in Houston on Friday. If it was the throat, he must sit.
Is that how the League will act? You never can tell.
UPDATE: ESPN's Chris Sheridan has seen the reverse-angle footage that doesn't seem to be online, and writes:
On the Bryant-Artest play, the two were battling for rebounding position when Bryant struck Artest with his elbow. Artest immediately began gesturing and arguing that he had been elbowed in the neck, but replays appeared to show Bryant's elbow striking Artest on his upper chest, just above the "R" on Artest's Rockets jersey.
While he may be assigned a retroactive flagrant or somesuch -- he did throw an elbow -- I'm now thinking that there is zero chance Kobe Bryant will be suspended for Game 3.
UPDATE: Sometimes, wishes do come true. A much better angle. I have backed up to the 16 second mark or so a zillion times, and this is certainly the best evidence I have seen yet. Nevertheless, I can't say I'm certain what happens. Certainly Bryant got Artest in the chest. But did he also get him higher, as the elbow went by? Watch Artest's head -- does it reverberate a bit before Bryant's elbow is even at his chest. And watch Bryant's elbow. Does it change course slightly? Hitting one part of Artest, and then another? For Stu Jackson's sake, I hope he has even more angles than we do: