Lakers star Kobe Bryant goes up for a reverse dunk during an exhibition game… (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA )
"It's been a long run … a great run but a long run."
So now Kobe Bryant is going to take a 6,257-mile run to play basketball in China?
"I think the biggest thing was the fatigue factor … guys were tired."
So now Kobe Bryant wants to get his rest on a basketball court in Europe?
The above quotes were uttered in May by a battered, beaten Bryant during his exit interview after the Lakers collapsed in an exhausted heap in Dallas.
Yet last weekend, less than three months later, the Lakers leader told reporters he was willing to skip the gift vacation granted him by the NBA labor shutdown and take his aching legs to any foreign team that would pay handsomely for them.
Meaning, of course, that Kobe Bryant's mouth has somehow imposed a lockout on his brain.
"I'm just waiting for my phone to ring … I'll play anywhere," he said Sunday during a news conference in Washington. "I grew up overseas, so I'm comfortable being overseas. So if [a foreign team] wants to pick up the phone and give me a call and wants me to come and play, I'll definitely listen."
Instead of a call, I'm wondering if Bryant would heed my text.
R U KIDDING ME?
It has been breathtaking to watch Bryant carry the Lakers through recent sprints on shredded knees, atop twisted ankles, with busted fingers. It is equally breathtaking to now hear him talk as if that were nothing more than a stubbed toe.
Watching Bryant talk about foregoing months of extra rest to risk meaningful injury while playing meaningless basketball is like watching an injured soccer player at the World Cup. He falls to the ground, he squirms in pain, he is carried on an ancient stretcher to a lonely spot on the sidelines … at which point he jumps to his feet and leads the crowd in doing the wave.
I don't care what sort of strange vampire stuff was performed on Bryant's right knee in Germany this summer, it is still his right knee, and it is still a shaky foundation to the Lakers' future. I don't care how much he has already rested during the lockout, his body needs as much healing time as possible if he is to remain limber enough to slip through the rapidly closing window on his championship hopes.
Bryant, who turns 33 later this month, has already played in 1,311 regular-season and playoff games combined. That's 60 more games than Michael Jordan played, and he retired at age 40.
Seeing as he is financially set, it is stunning that Bryant is not viewing the lockout as a blessing, a long-awaited chance to recharge, one last long vacation before embarking on the final two or three seasons of his career.
He surely doesn't want to play in Europe or Asia for the money. He absolutely doesn't need to play there for the fame. And hopefully he wouldn't play there simply to issue a union decree.
You know how it goes, the players don't need the owners, the players don't need the game, the players are the game, blah, blah, blah.
Bryant might feel that's an important statement, but he needs to let a 27-year-old guy like the New Jersey Nets' Deron Williams make that statement in Turkey. Williams does not have the immediate championship future of a franchise resting on an aging body. His risk in playing overseas is not as great. In fact, is any NBA player's risk as great as Bryant's, seeing as one fluky juke could mean the end of era?
The Lakers can't say this because they can't discuss any of their players during the lockout, but I can.
Bryant owes his team more than he owes the union. Bryant owes his teammates more than he owes his love of a good foreign pickup game. More than anything, Bryant owes it to himself to take care of himself in preparation for The Last Great Run.
Thinking back to his exit interview statements, who would have thought he was also exiting reality?
"This is a good summer for me to train and get strong."
Not if you end it by playing in Turkey.
"There is a difference between feeling healthy and feeling as strong as I know I can be … there's another level I can get to."
Kobe, you won't find it in China.