Beyond The Bison: Rabid Dog

Julian Dorey, Senior Writer

There’s an old saying that’s been used for hundreds of years in stories, films, and conversations: “When a dog has rabies, you put it down.”

The phrase’s significance is dense when you think about it.  The stereotypical dog is, after all, “man’s best friend.” The pain, anguish, and sorrow it must be to watch a “friend” you love so much contract a disease that eats away at its very being must be a nightmare.


While almost all of us have never experienced such a tragedy, we do indeed witness eerily parallel situations whether we realize it or not.


For the past couple of weeks, this phrase and its symbolism have certainly rung in my head. When Lakers future Hall-of-Famer and five-time champion Kobe Bryant went down with yet another serious injury (a torn rotator cuff this time)—every NBA fan who truly understands the game watched and shook their heads collectively. In a publicly-released video of his injury diagnosis the day after he hurt himself, Bryant gave fans a chance to see the fire and passion that vividly exists inside of him. The pain and anguish Bryant failed to hide when the doctor explained the severity are enough to make any casual fan cringe and feel pity.


This is now the third season in a row Bryant (who is 36-years-old) has ended his season with an anesthesia-induced countdown of ten, nine, eight … before yet another doctor cut him open to begin a months-long, excruciating rehab journey.


Two years ago (when his Achilles tendon gave out), Kobe was still near the top of his game—and his team was preparing for a playoff run. After showing some lack of explosion and rust in just six games of action post-rehab, his kneecap gave out—and the Lakers season spiraled down the drain.


Undeterred, Bryant returned as determined and obstinate as ever this year as media and fans alike declared him “injury-prone,” “over-the-hill,” and “not worth the money” (he’s making over $23 million this year). Despite his efforts and still somewhat-high-level play, his stats (22.3 PPG and 37.3 percent shooting against career averages of 25.4 and 45.1 percent, respectively) certainly hinted that the great Bryant was no longer around—no matter how strong his resolve.


And let’s also not ignore the fact that his team’s record stood at 12-31 when he went down. There was a point in the era immediately post-Shaquille O’Neal when Bryant played with a roster full of players who practically lacked basic motor skills—and even those teams never finished with less than 34 wins (which is much more than this year’s team was—and is—on pace for).


With another $23 million-plus paycheck guaranteed to him next season, many considered Bryant’s presence an albatross for the Lakers even before his latest injury. The past two summers have been complete strikeouts for the Lakers front office as they have tried and failed to recruit superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. What was even more alarming, though, was the unceremonious departures of stars like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, who showed little-to-no-interest in playing with Bryant—and who clearly believed the Lakers could no longer contend with him on the team.


It’s true that Bryant can be a difficult teammate (see: Smush Parker). It’s true that he commands the ball a lot.


But these are attributes that many of the greatest players to ever play had (see: Michael Jordan). And, you know what? For Bryant, it worked. No questions asked. He delivered five more titles to one of the NBA’s most storied franchises—and dominated the league consistently for around 15 years.


What more could you ask for?


But now, those days are over. Today Bryant is the dog and both his self-confidence and contract are the rabies.


At this point, the Lakers could throw illegal under-the-table money at superstars and have no luck. Guys like Magic Johnson can blame whipping-boy Lakers owner Jim Buss all they want—but Buss doesn’t have a move here.


It appears that the Lakers are stuck with Bryant for one more year as he has announced his intentions to return yet again from another devastating blow to his aging body. That means another year of no stars, another year of losing, and another year of watching an aging superstar hopelessly battle the only undefeated party to ever grace the earth—father time.


The great Bryant provided basketball fans—and sports fans—everywhere with incredible entertainment and history-making feats for so long. He won scoring titles. He won an MVP (and should have won many more than he did). He almost matched rings with Jordan.


But now he’s just a sick dog—and it’s only normal for us to wish for an expedited end to his career.


If Bryant steps away now, he would surely spare us the unfortunate memories of a disease-ridden conclusion to an otherwise incredible legacy.


The writing’s on the wall–and Kobe’s the only one who can’t see it.

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