How will Kobe Bryant spend his 32nd birthday?
It's a good thing Kobe Bryant's birthday is Monday instead of at some point during the NBA regular season. Everyone knows that if that were the case the Black Mamba would either a) forget when his birthday is, b) force himself to forget it so he's completely focused on basketball, c) get angry with birthday well-wishers and gifts because it's taking time away from the hardwood or d) all the above. With his 32nd birthday happening in the offseason, it's much more likely he's willing to celebrate. But given how Bryant is, you never know.
Below is a list of birthday scenarios for Bryant. Side note: I'd be interested in hearing what Lakers fans would get him for his birthday, how they think the player might celebrate and any birthday wishes for Bryant.
1. Uses birthday as motivation: Every time a family member, friend or fan wishes Bryant a happy birthday, he immediately lets out a scowl. With his assorted injuries last season, there were plenty of stories that suggested he was past his prime and that this was the latest sign that all that basketball mileage was catching up to him. With the report from Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer that argues Dwyane Wade is the league's best shooting guard still fresh in Bryant's mind, each birthday card and gift serves as a tangible reminder that he'll continue to hear questions about his age in the 2010-11 season. Instead of reading the cards, he watches a replay of Team USA's win over Spain to remind himself that injuries forced him to sit out. Instead of opening gifts, he heads to the gym to work on his game.
2. Spends birthday like any other day: Bryant spends Monday playing basketball and poring over game film not because he's angry about his age. He's just doing what he normally does -- hooping it up. As much as Bryant delighted in exacting revenge on his opponents, it was particularly revealing when he shared in his exit interview that he was mainly thrilled with the joy of winning. Bryant isn't in the gym today with something to prove. He's just doing what he loves best.
3. Rests: It's been what Bryant has been doing all of this offseason, so why should anything change? After playing in three consecutive NBA Finals and in the 2008 Olympics, Bryant finally conceded that it'd be much better to rest and repair the wear and tear on his body than to play in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. As indicated by his recent decision to sit out President Obama's recent pickup game, Bryant has abstained from basketball after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Now all that's left is healing that right index finger.
4. Spends birthday with family and friends: Ever since Bryant won his fifth championship ring, he's gotten back to what he calls "civilization." Fans are so used to seeing his laser-beam focus and obsession with basketball that it's sometimes surprising to see how much he enjoys his hobbies during the offseason. He attended the 2010 World Cup, ran his basketball camp in Santa Barbara, took a trip to China and attended the World Basketball Festival in New York (let's not forget he fit in a few discussions with potential free agents). Bryant isn't building himself into a cocoon just yet. Instead, he's taking his wife, Vanessa, to one of his favorite restaurants, Philippe Chow, and his two daughters, Gianna and Natalia, to Disneyland.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant with his father, Joe Bryant, turned 32 today. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times