Has the world seen the last of Kobe Bryant playing at an elite level on the basketball court?
That is the honest and fair assumption that can be made with the Los Angeles Lakers guard announcing on Wednesday that he will miss the remainder of the 2013-14 season. Bryant has missed all but six games this season due to a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee that came just nine days after returning from a torn left Achilles tendon that sidelined him for almost eight months.
Since suffering his latest injury, the 35-year-old has been restricted to just stationary bike exercise in his recovery, which he has described in over a handful of different occasions as a “slow process” that has not up to this point included any workouts on the basketball court in the past two and half months.
However, even through the lack of significant progress being made in his recovery, Bryant has remained determined as always to come back strong and once again prove the doubters wrong by demonstrating to them that he can defy the odds and play at an elite level on the court.
“I guess I could name names of every TV anchor and sportscaster and competitor who’s ever said something that I view as a challenge. But it’s a long list,” Bryant said. “What you have to do is take all that, accept it, understand where everybody is coming from. and now you take it as a challenge. Now you go out there and do what you do.”
His mindset has always been on showing the naysayers that he can do what is believed that can’t be done. This season he did just that by coming back from a torn Achilles in less than eight months removed from surgery, which is remarkable given that it is a significant injury that typically sidelines a player for about nine months to a year or possibly end their career (i.e. Isaiah Thomas).
He also has played through a torn ligament in his left wrist and right pinkie finger, but this latest injury for Bryant has caused him to take it slow and be realistic about his health at this point in his career.
“It’s different, but I am pretty good at being real,” Bryant said. “Where you are is just what it is and you just deal with it. I have been pretty good about that. I did that with the Achilles and the knee in comparison to that is absolutely nothing. It’s been fine. It hasn’t been too difficult.”
Bryant also knows by ending his year early it will give him the opportunity to use a seven-month window to really hone in and focus on getting his body strong enough to handle the workload of a full season.
“I have been doing this long enough to know what I need to work on,” Bryant said. “The biggest thing at this point in your career is body maintenance and doing whatever you can to get the body strong enough and healthy enough to where these little knick-knack injuries don’t bother you next season.
“When you have seven months to prepare, you certainly have time to ramp things up quite a bit and put a significant amount of (work)load on your body. Then you can see how your body reacts and you can adjust to it. (It also) gives you a chance to mimic the workload of the regular season, where a regular summer of two or three months of training you can’t do that.”
For the 18-year veteran, it has been frustrating to watch his team struggle mightily as they currently lie at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at a 22-42 record. But Bryant has kept his eyes set on the bigger focus; Getting his body right for next season and getting back to tip-top form which he believes he can do once again.
“I don’t want to say that I will be back at the top of my game, because I don’t want everyone to think that I am a ‘crazy, old player not letting go type of thing,'” Bryant said. “But that’s what it’s going to be.”
There it is. It’s that type of mentality that has kept the 16-time All-Star going through the difficult times. That is what makes Bryant stand out from the rest. It is not just the talent or skill level that separates him, it’s also his dedication to the game that is unparalleled.
Bryant has the will to push through even the self doubt that would keep others back and unwilling to go forward. If he does ultimately return to being one of the game’s elite players, it won’t because of his talent but rather due to his hard work and commitment to being great.
“Absolutely, but that is a part of the challenge. You always have those question marks,” Bryant said. “You meet those challenges and concerns that drive you that just more to make sure that doesn’t happen. Self-doubt is there and it’s always been there. I think it’s what we do about that self-doubt. You can let it dominate you or you can choose to face it and take it head on.”
Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press.
Kobe Quotes via Lakers.com