Thank goodness the NBA is back. It is going to be one of the most entertaining years in recent memory not only in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of offshoot side stories as well. This season sees the return of marquis stars, and newly developed rivalries are emerging due to free agency.
On the NBA’s opening night, Oct. 28, the Los Angeles Lakers squared off against the Houston Rockets, marking veteran Kobe Bryant’s return from a season-ending Achilles injury last year. The most interesting part of the night was a skirmish between Bryant and former Laker Dwight Howard. Howard grabbed a rebound and promptly stuck his elbows out to protect the ball. Bryant, clearly frustrated with his team’s lackadaisical effort and perhaps Howard’s poor stint in Los Angeles, got in Howard’s face trying to strip the rebound from him. He caught two elbows to the jaw and was not happy about it.
Make no mistake, Bryant is an all-time great player. He has five championship rings, a league MVP award and is often regarded as one of the top five basketball players of all time. He knows people may have forgotten about him last year, and that they even wrote him off as being an old man. He also knows Howard’s ego has grown since ditching Los Angeles for Houston, where he now has the help of fellow all-star James Harden, who is notably more sprightly than Bryant.
Bryant’s actions on Tuesday night sent a message: “I’m still here.” He was seen yelling “Try me, try me” at Howard as they were being separated.
This is what fans love about sports. Not fighting, per se, because that can often detract from competition — unless its hockey, then throw off the gloves and compare beards as much as possible. It is the somewhat primal drive to win and fearlessness in competition. Bryant is, by all means, an alpha dog personality, at times to a fault Yet that is what fans love about him.
NYU sophomore and men’s soccer player Bryan Walsh said even as a child he was taught to be aggressive.
“Starting at a young age, it’s instilled in all of us that we have the right to stand up for ourselves when the time comes,” Walsh said. “Playing on my U18 club team, we were known as an aggressive team that often found ourselves in altercations … Each player wanted to be seen as one that could hold their own on the field and impress their teammates.”
Sports exist in a dog eat dog world, but this mentality has given viewers some of the most entertaining moments and conflicts in sports history. The bad boy Pistons dished out flagrant fouls on anyone who came down the lane. The steel curtain Pittsburgh Steelers punished anyone who came over the middle trying to catch a pass. In the 1992 Olympics, USA Basketball’s Dream Team was determined to embarrass every team it left in its wake. These were some of the most riveting moments in sports history, and it is all because of the mentality Bryant showed last night — fierceness in the face of any opponent. NBA fans can only hope the rest of the season pans out with similar storylines along the way.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 30 print edition. Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]