In a dramatic video posted on his Facebook page before the Lakers played at Sacramento on Friday night, Bryant set his much-anticipated comeback date. The video, which was also uploaded to the team's Facebook page, was titled: "Seasons of Legend. Lakers announce Kobe's return."
The video shows Bryant's No. 24 jersey flapping in the wind. There is rain, sleet, snow and lightning for nearly 2 minutes. At one point, his jersey tears.
Sunshine breaks through the clouds, and the video fades to black. Finally, words flash across the screen that read, "The Legend Continues...December 8."
"That's something special right there," Lakers teammate Nick Young quipped when a reporter showed him the video on his smartphone in the locker room.
How effective Bryant will be against top-tier competition is the last lingering question in his return.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Bryant will likely be eased back into the lineup, though he declined to discuss how many minutes he will play in his first game. Asked what his expectations are for Bryant this season, D'Antoni said, "That he'll be a dominant player."
"He can play any way," D'Antoni said. "He can play below the rim, above the rim, the side of the rim. The guy can play any way. He'll figure out how he'll be effective and he'll come at you with everything he's got."
Bryant did not travel with the team to Sacramento.
The 15-time All-Star hasn't played since he was injured April 12 in a home win over the Golden State Warriors. He had surgery the following morning and was projected to take six to nine months to recover.
Bryant's return has seemed imminent since he began practicing last month. The 35-year-old guard has said that he could adjust his game and contribute something to the Lakers even if he's not fully healthy when he finally steps on the court for his 18th NBA season.
His teammates expect the same.
"He's the biggest competitor that there is. Happy to have him back," guard Jodie Meeks said. "He's looked great. Obviously he has to get his timing back and his legs, but I know he's probably been training pretty hard. I don't think it will take him long at all."
Los Angeles signed the fourth-leading scoring in NBA history to a two-year contract extension last week. Bryant's new deal is reportedly worth $48.5 million and takes him into his 20th season with the Lakers.
Bryant hasn't given up hope of adding a sixth championship ring to his trophy case, even while the Lakers struggle to keep up with the NBA's best teams. Los Angeles entered Friday night's game with a 9-9 record.
That's still slightly better than most Lakers fans expected this season after the departures of Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace coupled with the injuries to Bryant and 39-year-old point guard Steve Nash, who could return next week from the nerve root irritation in his back.
"We've developed some guys that are really going to contribute a lot, and it might not have happened if (Bryant) was here," D'Antoni said. "You have to look at the bright side of it. Now we just have to get him back to the level that he's capable of playing."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP