12/15--Lakers at Chicago
Try something at home just for fun: take something plastic and make a splint. Put the splint over your right index finger, and then tape it--both up and down, and across--to the top of your finger. Make sure that the finger can't bend at the joint. Now, pick up a basketball and try to shoot it.
It's almost impossible to control the ball. But I just returned from the United Center, where Kobe Bryant dropped 42 points on the Bulls in leading the Lakers to a win. When I interviewed him on the court after the game, I asked one very obvious question:
"How does a guy with a broken finger score 42 points?"
"I don't know. I don't know," Kobe said laughing, "I don't know." (You can watch the entire interview here: http://cbs2.com/video/?id=122118 )
Actually, I do know. It's a combination of Kobe's willingness to do anything to get ready to play, and Gary Vitti's willingness to make an enemy out of Kobe. Vitti is the Lakers' athletic trainer, who has been with the team since 1984. He's worked on everybody from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to Magic Johnson, to James Worthy, and now, Bryant. One thing I've learned about Vitti: if you are a willing patient, he will do everything humanly possible to get you ready.
I had dinner with Vitti on Monday night. After dinner was over, he went to Kobe's room and worked on his finger for an hour. He took a shoelace, and wrapped it so tight around the finger that he was able to move the swelling from the top of the finger to the bottom. He then taped the bottom down so that Kobe would sleep with no swelling at the top. The entire time Vitti was working, Kobe was in so much pain that he screamed at Vitti throughout the whole process. Vitti did it anyway.
"I don't like him very much right now," Kobe said after the game. "It's very painful, but he did a fantastic job."
At shootaround on Tuesday morning, Vitti tried a new splint that was different from the one they tried in the loss at Utah on Saturday. In the Utah game, Vitti put an aluminum rod on the front of the finger to hold it in place, then put a plastic splint over the top of the finger and taped the whole thing up. But at shootaround, he tried some different things and then settled on a third, brand new, splint for the game. He decided to scrap the rod, and use a thin piece of plastic to splint the finger at the top. He taped only that thin plastic, in a less-bulkier fashion, around the finger.
When Kobe came out to try it a couple of hours before the game, I could tell right away that this new splint was much better. The rotation on his shot looked normal, and so did his stroke. I said on our radio show that I thought he would be able to shoot normally, and that was an understatement.
He made 15 of 26 shots, scored 20 of the Lakers first 24 points, and had 25 of LA's 54 points at the half. He cooled off in the third quarter, but turned it back on in the fourth to finish with a season-high 42.
The next test is tomorrow in Milwaukee, when he'll try to play back-to-back games with the new splint.