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NBA lockout: Kobe Bryant's China barnstorming tour could be valuable

July 6, 2011 |  9:41 am


There's so much concern over Kobe Bryant's surgically repaired right knee that he spent last month in Germany undergoing an innovative procedure to alleviate the pain.

There's so much concern over Bryant's right index finger that it's fair to argue he should spend the NBA lockout receiving extra treatment and perhaps surgery to treat the arthritis. 

And there's so much concern over the heavy basketball mileage (40,145 career minutes) Bryant has accumulated in 15 seasons that many think he should just spend the off-season completely resting.

But that's not how Kobe Bryant operates.

He planned on having an active summer so he could build his leg strength and stick to his belief that it's easier to generate momentum by going through a gradual pace than completely shutting down his body. It's already been indicated that surgery on his right index finger might not even completely eliminate the pain and discomfort the arthritis has given him and he fears any surgery would make him unprepared in case the NBA lockout suddenly ends. And, as reported by The Times' Baxter Holmes, Bryant may be part of a barnstorming tour that will play in China this summer.

This revelation might make Laker fans as uncomfortable as Bryant must have felt when driving a Smart Car. Some fear it could risk further injury, exacerbate his fatigue and prevent him from taking care of his body, which these days -- what with his right knee, right index finger and left ankle -- is as dinged up as the character in the board game Operation. But playing in China is something different. 

This isn't Bryant playing with Team USA, where he has every incentive to fight tooth and nail for a gold medal to further cement his legacy. This is Bryant participating in exhibition games that will border more on an NBA All-Star game than a playoff contest. This doesn't convey a permanent defection to another basketball league. Even if the trip further enhances his strong brand in Asia, this trip merely sends the message that players won't simply sit on the sidelines during an NBA lockout, and if anything, provides more urgency for the league to iron out a deal. And this doesn't further hurt Bryant's rehab efforts. In fact, they enhance them. It's unrealistic to equate "rest" with "inactivity" and there has to be a way for Bryant to build gradual rhythm in his knee, such as playing games at half speed. 

Even though all accounts say Bryant is very educated about his body and follows medical procedures in exacting detail, that commentary speaks more to him managing his body enough to play than managing enough actually to be healthy. So there are certainly cases in which it would have been better for Bryant to err on the side of caution, such as sitting out as soon as he hurt his finger so he could fix it immediately or have an MRI on his left ankle during the postseason so he knew exactly how he should play through it. 

But fretting over Bryant possibly playing in China doesn't fit one of those scenarios. So sit back and enjoy the show. After all, there's not going to be much else to do during the NBA lockout.

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-- Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers' guard Kobe Bryant and Clippers' guard Eric Gordon battle for a loose ball on Oct. 27, 2009. Credit: Wally Skalij/ Los Angeles Times.