Two years ago I was sitting through an Introductory Psychology class (yawn), sifting through my Twitter feed while pondering what would complement my instant noodles best that evening for dinner. You know, typical college stuff. When out of nowhere the professor caught my attention with the term recency bias, meaning when something appears more important because it happened recently.
Since that day, recency bias has stuck with me (it’s also the only thing I still remember from that course), as it helps me contextualize sporting events for what they actually are instead of what my brain idealizes them as in the heat of the moment.
For example, Kobe Bryant just had his 17th season prematurely ended by an Achilles injury. Before the injury, he was having somewhat of a renaissance year individually, posting the most impressive numbers since he won the MVP award in the 07-08 season. Cynics will argue that Bryant sacrificed the success of the team for individual glory, but spin it the other way and one could also argue without Bryant, this year’s Lakers would be lottery bound instead of preparing for Game 1 against San Antonio Sunday afternoon.
Recency bias tells us the Lakers have played incredible team ball without Bryant and his absence has allowed Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to get the touches they deserve in the post, while also freeing up enough shots for the perimeter guys, a la Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, to get into a rhythm. I mean the Lakers are 2-0 since Bryant’s injury, and 3-1 when he’s sat out this year (4-1 if you want to count the win in Indiana when Bryant played only 12 minutes before deciding to rest his severely sprained ankle).
However logic tells us otherwise, anyone who has followed the Lakers closely enough this year knows just how instrumental Bryant has been to this team. In a season of turmoil and variables, he was the constant driving force.
Considering all the hurdles that were placed in front of the Lakers this year, dragging this year’s Lakers to the playoffs should be considered amongst one of Bryant’s greatest achievements in his illustrious career.
Take this in: the projected starting five for the Lakers this year was Steve Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Pau and Dwight Howard. The five of them have combined to miss 82 games due to injuries. That’s an entire season. Steve Blake and Jordan Hill were expected to log heavy minutes off the bench, the pair have also combined to miss 90 games and counting due to injury (with Hill’s return from hip surgery in question). With apologies to Derrick Rose and Chicago Bulls fans, the only team the injury bug has hit harder than the Lakers this year are the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Then consider this: in the seven games he played leading up to the injury Bryant played 47:37 (minutes), 47:04, 42:32, 47:20, 41:06, the full 48:00 and was on his way to another restless game before his Achilles gave out at 44:54 of the Golden State game. Even Allen Iverson, the microcosm of a one-man team in the 21st century never experienced logging those types of minutes. Oh and yeah this was Bryant’s 17th season in the league. Absolutely bonkers.
The way Bryant’s season came to a conclusion was unfortunate yes, but we as fans shouldn’t let the dark cloud of the injury overshadow what Bryant had done in order to leave the purple and gold in a win and you’re in situation with two games remaining in the season.
Bryant has reiterated many times in his career that winning is the most important thing to him, the way he played this season was a living testament to that. The expectations heading into this year were sky-high, thus when the team limped out of the starting gate (to put it kindly), Kobe could have folded. He could have gone into #8 Kobe mode and prioritized himself above the team. Instead he did the opposite. He morphed into a quasi-point guard halfway through the season when needed, he did not pout when Jim Buss hired Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson, and most importantly he stayed patient with his big men Pau and Howard, knowing their happiness was as essential to the team’s success as anything else.
The Black Mamba has achieved a litany of neat things in his career: one MVP award, two Olympic Gold medals, four All-Star game MVP’s, five championship rings and 15 All-Star teams, just to name a couple.
Recency bias aside, willing the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers to the playoffs should be mentioned in the same breath as all those things when all is said and done.
The Lakers open the playoffs Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PST. By all means, do get excited about it. Just don’t forget about the man who has been rendered a cripple getting them there in the first place.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out what Antawn Jamison said about facing the Spurs without Kobe Bryant!
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