masterpiecedaily: Benjamin West Thetis Bringing Armour to…


Benjamin West

Thetis Bringing Armour to Achilies I


Last Friday I was watching the Lakers game when Kobe Bryant tore his Achille’s tendon. I haven’t been following the Lakers too closely this season, but closely enough that when the drama started unfolding in the last few weeks, with Kobe taking over and doing his Kobe thing, playing big minutes when he should have been resting, I started watching. I was caught up in the drama: Would they be able to pass Utah for the eighth spot in the West? Would this merely be a very disappointing season? Or a spectacularly disappointing season?

So I was watching the April 12 game against the Warriors. The Lakers trailed most of the game, and they were fighting all the way. The Warriors were younger and stronger, and the Lakers needed everything they had just to stay close. Twice during the third quarter Kobe went down with lower-body injuries: first his left knee, then his right ankle, and each time you could see him set his jaw and consciously ignore the injury, willing himself to keep playing, focusing on the task at hand.

Late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers trailing by 6, Kobe came down and made a 3-pointer, then came down on the next possession and made another from well behind the arc to tie the game. And you could see it in his face: He was spent. But he wouldn’t stop. The Warriors scored, and on the next trip down Kobe had the ball, and he made a move, pushing off on his left foot to go by the defender, and it happened: He went down. The official blew the whistle, awarding him free throws.

You could see right away it was his ankle, but it wasn’t obvious how bad it was. Most NBA players who suffer a complete Achilles tendon tear (which is what this turned out to be), you know it right away. The player will be writhing on the floor and the game will basically stop until they can hoist him up and carry him off the court.

That’s not what happened this time. Kobe sat, rubbing the affected area, then they helped him to his feet and he hobbled a few steps. His face didn’t show anything. Even injured, he was still the best free throw shooter on the team. If he left now someone else would have to take those shots, and they needed the points. So he stayed in.

He set his jaw, approached the line, and dropped in two perfect free throws to tie the game. Then he just backed up a step and stood there while his teammates took the intentional foul so they could sub him out.

After the Lakers held on to win I watched his interview from the locker room, and the next day, Saturday, after the MRI results came out, I rewatched the second half. Linda was on the other end of the sofa playing bejeweled on her iPad; she likes watching the Lakers, but she’s less into them these days than I am. But she looked up when when I said, “this is it. This is where he tears the tendon.”

I was watching Kobe’s face as he approached the line to take his free throws, and it affected me more than it did the first time. I knew now what he knew at the time: How he’d heard the pop when he went down, how he knew already this was a season-ending, and (though he didn’t acknowledge it out loud) in all likelihood a career-ending injury. And the questions he’d taken at his locker afterwards: Did you worry about this when you were playing all those minutes over the last few weeks? When you went down twice in the third quarter, was that your body trying to tell you to ease up? Should you have sat when that happened? Would this have happened if you did?

And his answers: No, this was just something that happened. I knew it was a risk, sure. I knew what I was feeling. But this was our chance. It was win or go home. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Yeah, maybe. Because that’s the business we’re in.

So I was thinking all this watching him walk up to take his free throws, and Linda looked over and said, “Are you crying?” And it was just like when William was little, and he’d be sniffling and fighting to keep it together, and I’d want to tell him it was okay, those feelings were his, there was nothing wrong with feeling them.

“No,” I said, and scowled, and of course I didn’t fool her, but she let it go, and I watched Kobe make his free throws, then step back and wait for his teammates to take the foul and get him out of the game.

She looked over his shoulder

For athletes at their games,

Men and women in a dance

Moving their sweet limbs

Quick, quick, to music,

But there on the shining shield

His hands had set no dancing-floor

But a weed-choked field.

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Tags: kobe bryant, lakers, benjamin west, w. h. auden, the shield of achilles.

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