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Thursday, March 1, 2012
Gain not worth pain ... unless it's Kobe

By J.A. Adande

This is that level of crazy I've talked about in the past, the requisite amount of insanity it takes to prevail in the NBA. Kobe Bryant did whatever it took to come back from head, nose and neck injuries, even if it meant taking a fast-tracked route through the NBA's new concussion policy, just so he could participate in a midweek game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 29. He did so after sustaining the injuries because he didn't feel like coasting in the All-Star Game. Where's the logic in all that?

Perhaps it comes from the connection that championship moments in June don't usually happen without carrying this type of mindset in February. Maybe one day this all will come back on him, when he's old and arthritic and unable to remember which day of the week it is. Something tells me he won't mind as long as he can still feel the texture of his championship rings.

He didn't have to do all this. Minnesota's Kevin Love sat out the game after catching a shot to the ribs Tuesday night, then feeling sick Wednesday. No one ridiculed him. It's been a draining season, and the Timberwolves were in the middle of three games in as many nights. Rest up, kid.

Yet Bryant felt compelled to play. Not just play, but play wearing a mask to protect the nose that Dwyane Wade had tenderized, a mask that Bryant said "felt like I had a sauna on my face." That was the initial injury we all noticed when Wade took that unnecessarily hard foul on Bryant in the All-Star Game. Blood was dripping from the nose.

Wade adopted the "he started it" defense, noting that Bryant had fouled him twice before that.

"It happens," Bryant said.

Not in All-Star Games, it doesn't. Especially not in a game that until then had been a series of lob passes and unencumbered drives to the basket. But Bryant let Wade off the hook.

"He didn't mean to do it," Bryant said. "It's something that just happens. It is what it is."

Later, he added: "He's just not the type of person that would intentionally do something like that. All that matters is what our relationship is like. We communicated, and it's all good."

So he gave Wade a pass, which I'm guessing will expire around tipoff of the Heat-Lakers game Sunday at Staples Center.

You can only imagine the amount of treatment Bryant will go through between now and then.

Kobe likes to explore the limits. He plays his way because it's the path less taken, trying to win championships with him living up to the title shooting guard. He said he stayed in the All-Star Game even though Wade's hit left him feeling "weird" because he was "just curious."

Then he tried his best to adapt his customary mindset to an injury that's different from any other he has suffered in his career (like the torn ligaments in the wrist and index finger of his shooting hand, just to name two).

"Other injuries you can do therapy for and you try to expedite the recovery," Bryant said. "With a concussion, it just heals on its own.

"It's definitely different. In that sense, you're pretty helpless. You just have to be patient and hope for the best."

Patient is rarely an adjective used for Bryant. But the NBA's new concussion policy mandated that he take a series of physical and cognitive tests before he was cleared to play, and show that he was symptom-free every step of the way. Dr. Vern Williams, who examined Bryant, said the process was "somewhat accelerated" because it became evident Bryant's symptoms of headache and nausea in an examination Tuesday came from the whiplash-like injury he had suffered in his neck on the Wade foul, a previously undisclosed injury. That was better than stemming from a concussion.

Bryant had more treatment on his neck, including massage on it after the game Wednesday. He walked out of the arena with a kinesiology strip on the back of his neck, which made him look a little like Marcellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction."

Bryant said he feels a constant throbbing and pain at the base of his neck.

It's another injury to deal with. Another part of the storyline heading into Sunday's game, which was already loaded with 'em. Last time we saw Kobe and LeBron James on the same court, Kobe was chastising LeBron for not shooting. So it will also be Kobe versus Wade, Kobe versus his injuries ... on the two-week anniversary of Kobe squaring off versus the Lakers' front office with his statements after a game in Phoenix.

That's a lot of drama, from someone who seemingly has thrived on it throughout his career. The thing is, it won't change his approach. You might have noticed he dropped 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds on the Timberwolves on Wednesday night. He gave that game the same level of importance as this coming Sunday's. And the same one he gave this past Sunday's, a game that didn't affect the standings.

I don't know whether to applaud or condemn the mindset that will exact a toll on his body, whether at the end of the season or long after the end of his career. It doesn't make a lot of sense in the abstract. It just makes Kobe Bryant who he is.