Sometimes, there are storylines in sports that can get beaten to death to the point where we're tired of hearing about them. For me, one such storyline was Kobe Bryant's injured finger. For two years, I've had to read about how Bryant was heroically playing through the pain, as if he was the only guy who ever played through pain in sports. It got old.
But that doesn't make Bryant's feat any less incredible. In a league where people sit out games because of "flu-like symptoms," Bryant's ability to play (and play well) through the pain is really incredible. I took all that for granted, and now feel stupid for doing so after reading this article by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.
For Bryant, the sacrifice for success could well be visible for the rest of his career in the form of something that is not another championship ring to go around his finger.
He might never play again without wearing support for his damaged right index finger.
The middle knuckle on that critical finger on Bryant's shooting hand is so debilitated by arthritis after the past season of misuse and overuse that there may be no real way to fix it.
Lots of people talk about making sacrifices to win, but few actually do it. Or, to put it more accurately, many make mental adjustments temporarily, but few actually put their long-term physical capabilities in doubt just to get one more ring. Say what you want about Kobe and about how overplayed this story may have become, but it's really stunning to think that he cared so much about getting one more ring that he was willing to completely mess up his fingers for the rest of his life.
That's not being overdramatic; that's the truth. As Ding writes, Kobe's pretty much out of treatment options.
And now that Bryant played out the season with the splint and heavy tape job compensating for the lack of strength in the finger, perhaps he can never live without it.
Cartilage damage in a finger joint simply isn't easily fixed because there is so little cartilage with which to work. For Bryant's purposes of shooting and handling a basketball, fusing the joint is hardly a viable option.
Bryant has always been open to cutting-edge technology and treatment - whether medically with physical therapist Judy Seto or training-wise with Tim Grover or strategically with personal advance scout Mike Procopio - and will again be in this case.
Now, normally I'd say this is really bad news for a player's future, but we're talking about Kobe Bryant here. He figured out a way to succeed with a messed-up finger this year, so he can figure out a way to succeed with a messed-up finger in the future.
And when he does, I promise not to take that feat for granted.