Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant: The Warrior Ethos and Pride of Sparta

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after a basket and a foul against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 13, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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William Van NollFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

The Warrior Ethos is a code of conduct. Virtues of courage, loyalty, self-command, determination, these are all tenets of the Warrior Ethos.

We've all known Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant to typify this way of life throughout his 16-year career. But it was on full display Friday night vs. (poetically) the Golden State Warriors when he tore his Achilles and became sidelined for  the season.

Blame gets passed around for the misfortune. Is Mike D'Antoni at fault for allowing his shooting guard to log 45+ minutes a night game after game in the playoff push? Should management and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak have forcefully stepped in? Is Kobe Bryant responsible for the mishap?

Like a true warrior embracing the Warrior Ethos, Kobe Bryant cannot be at fault: he knows no other way.

Was this the final moment of Kobe Bryant's career? 

We've seen remarkable feats of rehabilitation from the most determined in sport lately. Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings recovered from a torn ACL in December 2011, defied all odds and returned ready for the season opener to gain 2,097 rushing yards and be named the league's MVP. 

Robert Griffin III is another, whose recovery from a torn LCL and ACL in this year's playoffs has been termed "unbelievable"by Dr. James Andrews, the foremost authority on ACL tears in the sport.

The Mamba is of the same ilk. A mere hour after rupturing his Achilles, Bryant said he's hearing the doubters in the back of his mind saying he won't be able to return from this injury and that its only going to fuel him to make a speedy recovery.

Return or not, what we saw Friday night was a warrior compete in a must-win game. This is what sport is all about.

The will to win under any circumstance.

It was beautiful in the most tragic sense.

Under the Warrior Ethos, there is no quit. There is no fear. Only challenge and courage.

A famous warrior story embodying this spirit comes from the days of Sparta and the war general Dienekes at Thermopylae. As told by Steven Pressfield, author of "The Warrior Ethos", the Spartans had occupied a pass in fighting an army of Persian invaders. They had yet to see the army, but heard it was big.

Pressfield:

As the Spartans were preparing their defensive positions, a native of Trachis, the site of the pass, came racing into camp, out of breath and wide-eyed with terror. He had seen the Persian horde approaching. As the tiny contingent of defenders gathered around, the man declared that the Persian multitude was so numerous that, when their archers fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun.

"Good," declared Dienekes. "Then we'll have our battle in the shade."

At any cost, no matter the wear and tear he endured or the army he was up against, the Mamba invited the battle.

Kobe Bryant made it clear last month to Lakers management and the Lakers coaches that he was going to play 48 minutes each game until his team secured a playoff spot. He was essentially going to play until he couldn't walk anymore.

In Friday night's game versus the Warriors, his promise would ring true.

He hyper-extended his knee in the second half on a bang-bang play at the rim. A timeout was called, athletic trainer Gary Vitti rushed over. This warrior, like he had done so many times before, walked it off and continued to play.

Minutes later, another sprain to his knee. The pain evident on his face as he grimaced down the court in between plays. Still, this warrior walked it off and continued to play.

Then, like the crescendo of a Russian ballet, this superhuman was knocked down for a final blow.

He could not walk.

True to his word, Kobe Bryant played until he couldn't walk anymore.

Yet even after rupturing his Achilles, unable to lift his left foot, Bryant had business to take care of.

He was fouled on the play and given two free throw attempts.

Ankle on fire and the pain noticeable, Bryant dragged his lifeless left foot 30 feet unassisted from the bench to the free throw line for critical free throws in a close game with division rivals and playoff implications.

Two points. All net. No rim.

And that was it. This warrior's time was done.

His team pulled out the much-needed win, but the Staples Center crowd and Laker nation everywhere were left to think if this was the last time they'd see No. 24 in a Lakers uniform.

If it indeed was the last time, it was truly special.

The game's greatest warrior had fought his last battle.

There is a famous saying from history's most respected warrior culture:

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy but where are they.

We'd be fools to doubt this warrior. Something tells me this wasn't the last time we'll see the Mamba.

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