Kobe Bryant’s Debut Lands Flat

Kobe Bryant WarmupIt was a night of basketball immortality and human frailty. It was a night of loud cheers and quiet shudders. It was a night when the perception was as torn as Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon last spring, an injury from which he returned Sunday amid both undaunted hopes and unsettling fears. Bryant’s aura was back, but his athleticism was not. His court presence was dramatic, but his court effectiveness was spotty. Fans showered him with two hours of love, but his teammates couldn’t get comfortable around him. He gritted his teeth and pumped his fist and shouted inspiration as the fans chanted both “Ko-be” and “M-V-P.” Yet he also missed seven of his nine shots, committed eight turnovers, and rarely left the ground on offense.

Kobe Bryant & DeRozanThere were 19 seconds left in the first half when the Staples Center crowd rose to its feet and roared. It’s been nearly eight months, but everybody remembered what was happening next. Kobe Bryant had the basketball. His teammates stepped out of the way. This was his moment. This was his memory. This was his comeback. Bryant’s driving shot was partially blocked by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, with Bryant crumpling to the floor and limping away as frightened fans gasped. “I was even scared myself,” said Bryant. From the moment Bryant announced as his comeback date in a biblical-style video Friday, there were worries that expectations would be too high, too soon. Those worries were realized from his first shot — an airball hook — to the game’s final ugly minutes. And, oh, by the way, a makeshift six-win Toronto Raptors team that had just traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay beat the clearly distracted Lakers, 106-94. “I guess it’s a start,” said Bryant afterward with a weary sigh. “A start is good.”

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