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Not Knocking Kobe For This One

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There has been plenty of negative press for Kobe Bryant as of late.

He doesn't have a history of being the world's greatest teammate.  He definitively isn't Michael Jordan.  He led his team to first in the Western Conference but could do no better than second against the allegedly inferior Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals.  He did plenty of scowling and yelling at his 'mates during that last series.

There's no desire here to contest any of that at this point, though it bears noting that Kobe certainly wasn't the sole cause of the demise of this year's Lakers team.

But the latest Kobe tidbit doesn't leave much room for frowning on him.

The OC Register's Art Thompson III reports that Bryant will forgo a necessary surgery on his hand in order to play for Team USA this summer.  Bryant has a torn ligament in his right pinky, which he played with throughout this past regular season.

Doctors have made it clear that surgery absolutely has to happen for Bryant.  But he wouldn't let it happen during the season -- when he played in each of the Lakers' 82 games -- and it won't happen early this summer, so long as their are games to be played.

If nothing else, the dedication is refreshing.

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In recent years, the importance of international basketball in this country has certainly appeared on the decline.  It's a long enough NBA season as is, and players cherish the summer as a time to rest.  Over the last few years alone, several high-profile American players have bowed out of international competition due to either injury or simply the desire to take the time to rest.

Bryant comes off a season in which he played 103 games all told, including four playoff series.  He won the MVP and led his team to 57 wins and a Finals berth.  He's got plenty of endorsement money coming in and a lucrative contract to begin with.  He has a wife and kids at home.  Also, he is injured.  He's got every reason to take the summer off for himself.

But instead, Bryant will be working with Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his teammates to ensure that America is that much better off in its search for a return to international basketball glory.

We can say plenty about this guy, but we can't say that he isn't a competitor or doesn't love the game.  This is a guy who actively wants to play this summer, so much so that he'll risk his regular season health for it.

This is a guy who takes pride in the opportunity to be there to stand up on behalf of his country.

Bryant has always shown himself to be someone who would play almost no matter the score and circumstance.  He wll put his master work ethic into business again this summer.  While his decision to play wouldn't thrill me from the Lakers' standpoint, he is one of the only players in the league who can put concerned fans at ease from worring about this stuff in today's NBA.  He has played less than 77 games exactly twice since 2001.  While he could do without risking training camp for the team that pays him the bills, Bryant's penchant is for playing in as many games as he possibly can, the expectation here is that the LA star will do everything in his power to make sure he's as ready to go as possible as quickly as he can, and he'll miss a miniscule number of contests in doing so. If anyone can make sure the team's losses due to his injury are as minimally impacting as possible, Kobe Bryant is the one.

More than 100 games played over the last calendar year.  A torn ligament.  Time needed to rest after a tough defeat in the Finals.

All that somehow adds up to Kobe Bryant opting to come right on back out for Team USA.

The man really does love to compete.

While he's representing our country in the red, white and blue to do that competing, I've got no shame in saying I'll be just one more rooting him on.

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