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Kobe Bryant finds criticism of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler unfair

January 26, 2011 |  2:58 pm

Sitting at his locker, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant held court with a handful of reporters in a joyful mood that captured the Lakers' 120-91 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz.

Informed that he has shot at least 50% in the past seven games, Bryant deadpanned, "I'm good." Amid the Lakers' balance that featured a team-high 36 assists and a continuously strong defensive performance that held the Jazz to 41.9% shooting, Bryant offered a quick reminder that the team shouldn't rest on his laurels. "Just because it's my 15th year," Bryant said, "doesn't mean I can't get better." And at one point, Bryant went into a profanity-laced tirade, joking he wasn't going to keep answering the "million questions" reporters had for him.

But what was placed right in front of his feet served as a visual reminder that getting to this point isn't easy for Bryant. There are intricacies required to make Bryant appear fluid and engaged as a scorer and facilitator. In front of him was a bucket of water, which for some reason had a copy of the box score floating on the surface. Moments earlier, Bryant had his feet planted there to keep his legs fresh, a necessary habit as he continues playing through a surgically repaired right knee that he had told the New York Post's Peter Vecsey earlier this month, "I have very little cartilage under my right kneecap, it’s almost bone on bone."

Last season,  Bryant's determination to play on essentially one leg during the first-round playoff matchup with Oklahoma City prompted him to get his knee drained; he continued to play through a sprained knee he said was "the size of a balloon," and had arthroscopic surgery after securing his fifth NBA championship.

Bryant's example, among many others, has been used as the perfect foil for Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who remained sidelined for most of the second half of the Bears' NFC title-game loss Sunday to Green Bay because of a left knee injury that Bears Coach Lovie Smith revealed Monday to be a sprained ligament. Several reporters and athletes alike questioned why Cutler would remain on the sideline instead of fighting tooth and nail to carry the Bears to the Super Bowl. But don't count Bryant among those questioning Cutler's toughness.

"They should leave that alone," Bryant said. "They have no idea what it's like, especially with commentators who have no idea what an MCL even is or what it's like to walk on it or to play on it, let alone get hit on it and sacked on it as many times as he has."

This isn't the first time Bryant has made his stances known regarding certain NFL matters. A Philadelphia Eagles fan, Bryant proudly wore a Michael Vick jersey in the locker room following the Lakers' win earlier this month against the New York Knicks, the same day the Eagles were eliminated by the Packers. Even though his hometown team lost to Green Bay, Bryant shared how he's struck a friendship with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who met up with Bryant when the Lakers visited Milwaukee in November 2009, where Bryant expressed admiration for his ability to master the playbook.

This issue goes beyond Bryant sharing his views views as a football fan. Injuries are a universal concept and certainly aren't foreign to the Lakers. When Andrew Bynum (lateral meniscus tear in right knee), Lamar Odom (left shoulder), Ron Artest (left shoulder, thumb), Shannon Brown (sprained right thumb) and Bryant (knee and right index finger) fought through various injuries during the 2010 postseason, Bryant shared that the team would see who would crack first.

"I think the thing with the injuries is everybody kind of looks at each other and tries to figure out which one is going to be the first punk," Bryant said during the playoffs. "Because we will talk about you like a dog, like a chump. So nobody wants to be a chump."

So what's the difference between Bryant's defense of Cutler and Bryant's insistence his teammates play through injuries? After all, Lakers forward Matt Barnes, who's close with Bryant, spent part of his time rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee watching the Bears-Packers matchup and tweeted, "I can't believe Jay Cutler hasn't even TRYED to come back.. This is to go to the Super Bowl.. That's crazy." Barnes then backtracked: "I apologize 4 my comments made yesterday about Jay Cutler w/out knowing the facts, it was wrong of me 2 ASSUME that he really wasn't hurt..The way he was laughing & his facial expressions through me off.. Again it was wrong of me. I was caught up in the emotion of the game, but as an professional athlete I should have known better." But the message became clear: Players should fight through injuries, especially in big games, a sentiment several NFL players expressed regarding Cutler.

"They don't know what the hell they were talking about," Bryant countered. "They were just jealous they weren't in that position."

Those players focused on Cutler's stoic sideline demeanor, apparent ability to walk and the lack of medical treatment on the sidelines. Plenty of the media focused on the difference between Bryant's reluctance to sit out to rest his fractured index finger last season and then going on a five-game absence because of a sprained left ankle. So regardless of the contrasting images Bryant and Cutler have conveyed through how they handle injuries, there is one common denominator.

"It's just about listening to your body," Bryant said. "I feel I do a good job of that."

--Mark Medina

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