OAKLAND – Six months after witnessing Kobe Bryant tearing his left Achilles tendon, Golden State coach Mark Jackson wanted to come clean.
As Bryant fell to the ground on a routine drive past Harrison Barnes in the waning minutes of a regular-season game April 12 against the Warriors at Staples Center, Jackson sensed the sequence amounted nothing more than a ploy to trick Golden State into believing Bryant was hurt.
“I’m in the huddle saying don’t go for the okie doke,” Jackson said before the Lakers played Golden State Wednesday at Oracle Arena. “He’s all right. Don’t allow him to take over this game not knowing he was really hurt.’”
Bryant then shot two free throws on one foot. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti told this newspaper he alerted officials in what he described as a “gentleman’s agreement” the Lakers would foul immediately. That way, Bryant could walk off on the court on his own.
“If I would’ve known Kobe Bryant was hurt, I would’ve called a timeout,” Jackson said. “They would not have to have committed a foul. That’s as much respect as I got for him. I appreciate him as a competitor even in the midst of going against them.”
That’s why Jackson said he personally apologized to Bryant at some point when the Lakers and Warriors played each other twice during a nine-day trip to China.
“I thought it was important to let him know that,” Jackson said. “In typical Kobe fashion, he said, ‘Thank you I appreciate it. But I’m's coming after you next time.’”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni sounded more confused than offended on how Jackson handled the incident.
“I have a lot more regrets than that,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “Last year, we had a lot of regrets.”
Of course, that included Bryant’s season-ending injury.
“It was tough. He was running on fumes at that point and he was doing everything he can to get us into the playoffs and he did,” D’Antoni said. “In a way, it showed his heart and determination. It’s too bad that’s the way it ended.”
The Lakers still feel the residual affects of that night, obviously.
After performing light shooting and jogging drills toward the tail-end of the Lakers’ China, Bryant spent this week running on a weight-bearing treadmill. The Lakers say he hasn’t experienced any setbacks considering Bryant remains medically cleared to participate in full weight-bearing activities. But Bryant recently said he’s decided to “scale back” his rehab to allow his Achilles to restore more flexibility.
But with Jackson describing Bryant as a “legend,” the Warriors coach held firm optimism on his recovery.
“He’ll be fine. I don’t look forward to facing him,” Jackson said. “As a fan of the game, you hope he comes back. You don’t bet agianst a guy like that. I’m sure he’ll come back and still be great.”
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