One of the most legendary aspects of Kobe Bryant was his unreal pain tolerance and determination to push through any injury and there was no better example of this than him making two free throws after tearing his Achilles against the Golden State Warriors during the 2012-13 NBA season.
Bryant walking off the court under his own power was an unbelievable sight to behold under the circumstances.
On the other end of that spectrum (especially in the minds of Los Angeles Lakers fans) was Paul Pierce in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Pierce cried on the floor after what seemed like a serious ankle injury and left the floor in a wheelchair, only to return later in the game and help the Boston Celtics to a win.
In Bryant’s case, the Lakers were battling for a playoff spot and he was willing to try anything to keep playing. David Aldridge of The Athletic recently recalled the moment, speaking with longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti about Bryant insisting on shooting the free throws and leaving under his own power:
It was notable not just for Bryant’s attempts to roll the torn tendon back into place, or to ask head athletic trainer Gary Vitti if there was some way he could tape it up and keep playing. It was notable, of course, because Bryant insisted on shooting the two free throws owed him after he was fouled and crashed to the floor, then insisted on leaving the floor on his own after L.A. took a deliberate foul to get him off the court.
Vitti would go even more into detail, saying that Bryant insisting on walking off the floor was a shot at his Celtics rival:
“I told the officials what we were going to do,” Vitti recalled in 2017. “As soon as we fouled, I walked out on the court to get him. And I said, ‘You want a chair?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m walking off.’ And he walked all the way back to the training room on his own power. That was a message to Paul Pierce. ‘Cause you remember in the (2008) Finals, Pierce looked like he got shot by a sniper, rolling around, writhing in pain? They take him off on a chair and he comes back and plays and they beat us? That was Kobe’s [expletive] you to Paul Pierce.”
Knowing the drive and competitiveness of Bryant, it certainly is feasible that he harbored some resentment for Pierce following that moment. He has been very open about hating losing those 2008 Finals to the Celtics and has said the 2010 Finals was his personal favorite championship.
That torn Achilles was the turning point in Bryant’s career as he was never the same after that. Him shooting those free throws was like one last act of defiance and him doing it — at least partially — as a shot towards one of the most hated Celtics only makes the moment that much better.