The Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the 2013 Playoffs by a talented and deep San Antonio Spurs team. At the time, the Lakers’ roster was depleted due to injuries and their main star Kobe Bryant had torn his Achilles just weeks prior. As for Dwight Howard, it was his last game with the franchise and it come to an abrupt end after he chose to pick up his second technical foul.
Despite the horrid season filled with injuries and setbacks, it was Kobe Bryant who walked out the tunnel in crutches. Howard’s departure back into the locker room defined his character, while Bryant’s decision to go to the bench was a definition of his. Although the Lakers were getting blown out by the Spurs, the crowd erupted in cheers as Kobe made his first appearance since the tear.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated spoke to Kobe about the moment, and the five-time champion said at that time he was holding back tears.
L.A. is about to be swept and Howard is about to leave for Houston, where he will forfeit $30 million and avoid discomfort. But Bryant is the rare modern athlete whose presence can transcend playoff results and free-agent decisions. Sometimes, just seeing him is enough. “The long year, the injuries, the Shaq stuff, the Phil stuff, it all came to a head when I walked out to the bench,” says Bryant, who was serenaded with a standing ovation and MVP chants. “It was the first time I ever felt that kind of love from a crowd. Oh, my God, I was fighting back the tears.”
Knowing Kobe Bryant and his relentless will to win, it won’t be surprising to see him on the court on opening night. However, that determination will not stop on game one of 82, it will continue for each and every game.
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