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Kobe Bryant misguided for refusing diagnostic tests

April 25, 2011 |  8:09 pm

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant kept shaking his head.

He had just spent the past minute trying to walk off a sprained left ankle that he turned while guarding New Orleans guard Willie Green. But with Bryant initially on the ground wincing in pain and showing continuous signs of discomfort afterwards, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson sent in Shannon Brown to replace Bryant in the final minute of Sunday's Game 4 loss to New Orleans. Bryant initially refused to come out, indicating in some variation that he felt fine.

While Green shot his pair of free throws, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti attended to Bryant on the sideline, but he continued standing up. Finally, an agitated Jackson could be seen on the telecast telling Bryant to "sit down." A timeout helped alleviate the pain enough in Bryant's ankle to play him for the rest of the game, with exception to Brown playing in one defensive sequence. But that appeared to be just the beginning of Bryant stubbornly doing things on his own accord.

Despite the Lakers' insistence that he get an MRI and X-rays for precautionary reasons on Monday, the team has said Bryant refused taking such tests. He didn't talk to the media after Monday's practice to explain why, but Jackson's sarcasm and clear agitation suggested he wasn't budging on the issue. "We're trying to convince him it might be a good idea to do that," Jackson said.

It's a shame because Bryant knows his body really well and can play through most pain, a reason why Jackson and the team's medical training staff defers to him when it comes to determining his playing status. It's unfathomable he can't extend the same courtesy to the staff for willing to have precautionary tests. The rationale that perhaps that would force Bryant to sit out Tuesday when the Lakers host Game 5 against New Orleans simply doesn't fly.

"It doesn't matter," Jackson said of whether Bryant may be afraid that the test results would indicate his ankle sprain is more seriously hurt than he believes it might be. "He's going to play anyway. That's his answer."

This isn't even a debate on whether he should sit or should he play. Given the stakes of a 2-2 series, Bryant's clearly doing everything possible to make sure he's in the best shape to walk onto Staples Center court Tuesday night. After using crutches to leave New Orleans Arena and onto the team bus, Bryant spent the four-hour flight receiving various treatment, including icing, electronic stimulation and massage therapy. As Bryant told reporters after Game 4, "It's going to take a lot to stop me to play. We'll make sure we stay on top of it."

Part of staying on top of it should involve taking some test for pretty obvious reasons. The Lakers' medical staff will have a better idea of the severity of it and how to treat it, and Bryant, in turn, will know as well. This is more of a trust issue. For all the round the clock treatment and rehabilitation, Vitti, physical therapist Judy Seto, massage therapist Marko Yrjovuori and athletic performance coordinator Alex McKechnie provide for Bryant, the least he could do is return the favor. For someone who's fixated on knowing every single detail surrounding his body, Bryant's refusal to take the diagnostic tests only makes it harder for the Lakers' medical staff to determine exactly what treatment he needs to keep his ankle healthy throughout the postseason.

It's possible Bryant may decide to have one privately without the team disclosing any information. But there's no indication that has happened. As much as Bryant clearly doesn't want anything to get in the way of him playing to pursue a sixth ring, his stubbornness is making it harder for both himself and his teammates.

Said Jackson about Bryant: "He won't let them deal with it."

--Mark Medina

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