Kobe Bryant Finding That Indomitable Will Is No Match for Harsh Reality of Aging

NEW ORLEANS — Like most nights in this 19th season of Kobe Bryant basketball, it was better before.

That's the reality of people rightly putting the words "aging superstar" in front of his name, despite Bryant also saying he's doing "pretty phenomenal things" under the circumstances.

Bryant hurt his right shoulder Wednesday night late in the third quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 96-80 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. He asked out of the game. He consulted with the trainer, got the shoulder wrapped by the physical therapist and watched the Lakers falter without him—a deficit of three points swelling to 13.

He sat on the bench with his left hand on his right shoulder—rubbing, massaging, probing to find the source of the pain. Unlike a lot of athletes, Bryant has figured out how to deal with the pain once he has it. But all the shoulder shrugs, faux shooting strokes and cranking that joint didn't give him any answers.

Given that it was just "achy," he told Lakers coach Byron Scott that he was all right. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti confirmed to Scott that Bryant, the "toughest S.O.B." with whom Vitti has ever worked, had decent strength in the shoulder.

It was Vitti who, just after Christmas in 2009, had been then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson's messenger to ask Bryant if he could really play through a stinger in his right elbow. Bryant had been dribbling and passing with his left hand.

Vitti consulted with Bryant, got the vehement clarity he sought and returned to Jackson. 

"If I tell you he can't play, he's gonna break my arm," Vitti told Jackson that night in Sacramento. "That's to let you know how much he wants to play."

Bryant had just won his first Shaquille O'Neal-less NBA championship with plenty of stories of his fortitude in all the years prior, so his heart was already large enough that it didn't need to grow three sizes tha...

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