Kobe Bryant had torn his right rotator cuff. But, hey, he had another arm.
And so in January, after inuring that right shoulder dunking against the Pelicans in New Orleans, he just used the left one.
“He came down, and he started shooting left-handed,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis recalled Monday. “And he made it. I’m like, ‘Did y’all just see that?’ He turned around and shot it left-handed like it was nothing. He’s amazing.”
That game is a microcosm of his on-court career, the one Bryant announced Sunday will end after this season, his 20th in the NBA.
The NBA will “lose something,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, when Bryant walks away after the season, and Pelicans players are among those who will feel the loss.
For Davis, Bryant’s retirement means the loss of a mentor. Before his rookie season, Davis played with Bryant on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
“It was amazing,” Davis said. “He kind of took me under his wing. Wherever he went, I kind of went, and he taught me about the league, taught me about the game. It was really all them guys, but the one I really connected with was Kobe.”
For point guard Jrue Holiday, who grew up a Lakers fan in Los Angeles — and attended a Bryant basketball camp in high school — the end of Kobe’s career is the end of an era.
“Mentally, physically, he put it all out on the line in every single game — if it was a game, practice, whatever it was — and you could see that,” Holiday said. “What he gave to the game, words can’t really describe.”
Bryant is the NBA’s No. 3 all-time leading scorer. His 32,683 points entering Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia rank behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Karl Malone. He has won an MVP award and has made the All-Star team 17 times.
But “his whole measuring stick was championships,” Gentry said. Bryant won five of them with the Lakers, in addition to two Olympic gold medals.
“For the longest time, I told everybody I thought that he was the best player in the game since Michael Jordan,” Gentry said. “Over the course of his career, I think he’s kind of proven that from a competitive standpoint and the will to win and what he’s been able to do.”
Bryant has 67 games remaining this season, including three against the Pelicans. The last two of those — Feb. 4 and April 8 — will be in New Orleans.
“Going to play the Lakers, the first thing you think is, ‘Our main goal is to stop Kobe,’ ” Davis said. “Now after this year, you’re game-planning for somebody else. You don’t really think of the Lakers without Kobe.”
No change for Holiday
For the first time this season, Holiday played in games on back-to-back nights over the weekend. But don’t expect that to become a habit.
The point guard, still playing with a minutes restriction as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg, isn’t permitted to play regularly on back-to-back nights. Games at the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz on Friday and Saturday were an exception, Holiday said, because he played only 13 minutes in Los Angeles, well below his limit.
The plan has been for Holiday to return to back-to-back games in January.