ONTARIO, CA -- Just a day after deflecting retirement rumors, Kobe Bryant had something much more immediate to deal with Wednesday -- a sore shoulder.
An hour and a half prior to the Lakers' 93-75 exhibition game loss to the Portland Trailblazers, there was Bryant, sitting in the home locker room at Citizen's Business Bank Arena with a contraption looking much like a vacuum cleaner pumping air into a therapeutic sleeve attached to his arm. The official diagnosis was a strained shoulder, suffered while dunking near the end of Tuesday's practice. A smiling Bryant said he'd be fine for Saturday's game at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz. Coach Mike Brown wasn't so sure, saying he didn't know how serious the injury is, and that it's wait-and-see time for Bryant.
Brown, of course, is notoriously close-to-the-vest when it comes to talking in depth about player injuries, although he did admit it was he and trainer Gary Vitti who decided to hold Bryant out of the game. "He's a competitor and he wanted to play," Brown said after the game. "At this point we didn't think it was the right thing to do."
If you listen to Bryant, though, there's really nothing to worry about.
"I'll be fine," he said, "and I'll be back soon." Then Kobe turned comedian after someone brought up the legendary William "Smush" Parker, Kobe's sometimes thinking-challenged Laker teammate from 2005 through 2007.
"And people wonder why I had to take 45 shots a game," Bryant said laughingly to his now-captive audience. "With Smush, what was I supposed to do? Let Chris Mihm shoot?" By now, reporters were hysterical and Kobe had accomplished his goal -- taking the spotlight off of his right shoulder.
Even if Bryant's injury is more serious than thought, don't expect the 34-year-old to let it stop him from playing. After all, this is the true Superman of the Lakers.
Kobe has played through broken bones, torn knees, arthritis, wrist injuries, severe ankle sprains, yet will close on on 45,000 regular-season minutes played by the end of the campaign. He'll probably also surpass the 9,000 minute-mark for playoff performances, a stunning total of nearly 55,000 minutes played in a career defined by toughness and absolute intensity.
Bryant said that he's put himself through the pain -- physical and mental -- because of the unbridled love he has for his profession.
"It's really all I've ever wanted to do since I was a kid," Bryant said. "A lot of dedication goes into being as good as you can be, and for me that means playing through injuries if I can possibly do so."
Bryant admitted, though, that the tenacity and the mileage have taken a devastating toll on his body.
"I feel like I'm sixty years old some days," he lamented, "but that just makes it more challenging, more exciting. Then there are the people out there who say 'It's OK if he's not the same player he was. He's lost a step. That's fine. That's the way it's supposed to be.' That stuff drives me crazy.
"You always want to continue to challenge yourself and to accept the challenge that others bestow upon you. It's very easy to say 'I've had a great career. I can just chill now.' But that wouldn't make me happy just to be content. I want to try and answer those challenges and answer those critics.
"Trust me. I'll be OK."
NOTES: Brown put the Lakers through a nearly three-hour workout Wednesday prior to the game. "Our legs were a little tired out there," said point guard Steve Nash, who scored 13 points with running mate Bryant on the bench along with Dwight Howard....Brown admitted that he's not worried about wins and losses right now -- the Lakers are 0-2 in the pre-season. He' just wants to see how his team "meshes. Guys are going to get playing time in different situations so I can see what we've got out there," Brown said. "We know who is going to be starting; we have to decide who will get the minutes as backups."....The TrailBlazers won their first exhibition game under new head coach Terry Stotts. Rookie guard Damian Lillard had 14 points and 7 assists in his NBA debut and LaMarcus Aldridge added 14 points and 8 rebounds.