That passion has been tested in recent seasons.
Bryant's collaboration with Jackson hit a rocky stretch, the two trading barbs in public, and did not end well. The coach retired in 2011 after the Lakers were swept out of the Western Conference semifinals by the Dallas Mavericks.
The following winter, Commissioner David Stern blocked a trade that would have sent superstar Chris Paul to the Lakers, and the team limped through the 2011-12 season, departing the playoffs in the second round.
This season began with the acquisition of Howard and Nash, which seemed to herald a return to glory days.
But then came a raft of injuries, including Nash's fractured leg, Howard's shoulder pain and Gasol's various ailments. Coach Mike Brown was fired a week into the season, replaced by the controversial Mike D'Antoni.
After the team lost six consecutive games in January, Bryant said: "I'm very frustrated and upset about what we're going through right now and how we're playing."
Fans echoed that sentiment all along.
"This has to be the most frustrating year I've had since I've known the Lakers," said Todd Israel of Los Angeles, who has been following the team since childhood. "You never want to give up on the Lakers but it was feeling like it's just not their year."
If they were going to reach the postseason, their longtime superstar would have to carry the load. In recent weeks, Bryant averaged almost 46 minutes a game, raising his scoring average to 27.3 points, third-highest in the league.
There were questions about whether D'Antoni was riding him too hard, whether all of those minutes contributed to Friday's injury.
Venting on his Facebook page after the game, Bryant wrote: "All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done millions of times!"
Watching from afar, Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers was amazed to see Bryant stay in the game after going down, shooting two free throws, then limping to the bench.
"I'd have been laying on the floor, crying like a baby," said Rivers, a former player. "He's as tough a competitor as we've ever seen."
Like many, Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau, who was an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers when Bryant played for nearby Lower Merion High, believes that his grit will fuel a comeback.
"Guys like that, they go out on their own terms," Thibodeau said. "I don't have any doubt he'll battle back."
Most people in the game do not expect to see him on the court until the middle of next season at the earliest. In the meantime, Lakers fans can only endure another disappointment.
"Seeing him grimace and leaving the game, I knew it was bad," said Deon Edwards of Compton. "Like every Lakers fan, I feel like I not only know him, but he is a best friend."
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan, contributor Eric Pincus, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel contributed to this story.
(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Most Popular Stories
- NSA Defends Global Cellphone Tracking Legality
- Ad Counts Rise in 2013 for Hispanic Magazines
- Top Websites for U.S. Hispanics
- Networks Vie for U.S. Hispanic TV Viewers
- Saab Gets Back into the Game; U.S. Auto Sales Soar
- Apple Activates Customer-Tracking iBeacon
- Dell Offers Undisclosed Number of Employee Buyouts
- 2013 Tech Gift Guide: iPad Mini Still Hot; Chromecast a Great Low-Cost Option
- Authorities Close to Deal with JPMorgan Chase over Madoff Response
- A Biography of Jonathan Ive, Apple's Creative Chief