Show us what you’re made of Kobe
If you’ve played at a high level in the NBA for close to two decades, you’re bound to have a list of accomplishments longer than Shawn Bradley’s wingspan. Feel free to Google the likes of Robert Parish, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, or even some guy named Kareem. These men are legends and they were able to remain relevant in professional basketball for an extended period of time thanks to their work ethic, basketball knowledge, physical conditioning, and leadership skills. I have no doubt, and neither should you, that each and every one of them played through an injury. As great as these guys, and numerous others before and after were, if there was an award in the NBA called “The Show Must Go On” then there’s really only one man that should receive it…
Kobe Bryant is about to play his 18th season in the NBA and during his storied career we’ve seen him play through a myriad of injuries. These have been more than a jammed thumb, a sore toe, a stomach virus, (although Jordan’s flu game was gnarly), or a reaction to undercooked seafood. You’re about to find out that Kobe just isn’t human. Let’s dive into some of Father Time’s attempts to set back the Mamba.
1999: Break The Wrist And Walk Away
Kobe had to sit out for the first 15 games of the ’99-’00 season because of a broken wrist. My guess is that he broke it throwing down some sick jams in the off-season. This was the first year of the Laker’s 3-peat so obviously Kobe’s absence early on wasn’t too much of a factor. The interesting thing about the ’99-’00 season is that the Laker’s record was 67-15. Perhaps if Kobe had played in those 15 games we would have witnessed the first ever undefeated season in NBA history? I’m just sayin.
2000 NBA Finals: Sprained Ankle
Thanks a lot Jalen Rose. What’s with the Pacers and dirty plays? Remember when Reggie Miller shoved Michael Jordan to make that last second shot? Jalen Rose decided to carry on that Indiana tradition by stepping under Kobe’s jump shot just a few minutes into the 1st quarter of Game 2 in the 2000 Finals. That sprained ankle was brutal and watching Kobe writhing in pain was stomach churning. There was definitely a worry that Kobe wouldn’t return at all. When Kobe missed Game 3 and the Lakers lost, my faith in the Lakers was a little shaken. Could there be a chance they wouldn’t win it all? That was extremely naïve of 13 year old me to think because in Game 4 the Lakers were on a mission. When Shaq fouled out, Kobe and his gimpy ankle came in and destroyed the Pacers by scoring 28 points. 8 of which were in overtime (an NBA Finals record). By the way, Kobe sank that shot Jalen.
2000-2001: What Wasn’t Injured?
“What’s that Father Time? Sorry, I can’t hear you cuz I’m busy ballin out.” If Allen Iverson didn’t have the best season of his career, Kobe would’ve surely taken home MVP honors in 2001. Even though he was dealing with a sore shoulder, an injured pinky, hip and elbow bursitis (a fancy term for inflammation of the little sacs between your joints) Kobe managed to average 28.5 PPG which was a full 6 points more than the previous year. Oh and in case you lived under a rock, the Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs and won their second straight championship while Kobe averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in the post season. Who said Kobe doesn’t know how to pass?
2003-2004: Kobe’s Bum Shoulder
This was the year that Kobe had to tend to some legal matters in Colorado. He did skip a couple of games because of court dates, but you can’t really choose to miss court because you’ve gotta score 50 points against the Grizzlies. It was understandable that his play this year would be affected by the drama in his personal life. After having off-season surgery on his shoulder, Kobe re-aggravated it halfway through the year causing him to miss some games while he rested the shoulder. Kobe proved how clutch he could be by nailing a few buzzer beaters against the Portland TrailBlazers in the 4th quarter and the 2nd overtime to clinch the Pacific Division in the final game of the season. Unfortunately, not even having the Mailman and the Glove by his side was enough to overcome the chemically balanced Detroit Pistons coached by Larry Brown. I’ve never been a Piston fan, but this was a special season for those guys and you appreciated what they had done without a bonafide superstar. Almost Lakers… Almost.
2004-2005: The Ankle Again?
As we bid a fond farewell to Shaq, we thanked him for the 3 rings he helped bring to LA and many wondered whether the Lakers should have gotten rid of Kobe instead. This year we Laker fans witnessed a season that was… how do I put it… forgettable.
No Phil Jackson? Rudy T. resigned because of exhaustion? A 34-48 record? Really? Kobe missed a whole month because of a severely sprained ankle which definitely contributed to the Lakers disgraceful record. Even with missing so much time he still averaged 27.6 PPG which was good enough for 2nd in the league. Needless to say, the Lakers missed the playoffs and everyone was begging Phil to come back. And believe me, we needed him.
2007-2008: Surgery? No Thanks.
The injury to Kobe’s finger on his shooting hand was described as, “a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament, an avulsion fracture, and a volar plate injury at the MCP joint.” Umm… ouch? How long was he out though? Zero games. That’s right, Kobe played all 82 games and postponed surgery until the NBA season and the ’08 Olympics were over. He averaged 28.3 PPG, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists that season and then won a gold medal with the Redeem Team.
2008 Western Conference Semifinals: Guess Who’s Back
Kobe and his new look Lakers went 57-25 this season and swept the Denver Nuggets out of the first round. Next up was the Utah Jazz. Kobe’s back gave out against Utah but even with the pain, he averaged 33.5 PPG and the Lakers knocked off the Jazz in 6, shut the Spurs down in 5, and lost a 6 game battle in the Finals to the evil Boston Celtics and the original “Big 3.” Definitely not the top of the world, but hey, Kobe made it to the Finals without Shaq and that’s got to count for something. This also marked the first of three straight trips to the Finals.
2010 Playoffs: Drain It!
Crutches? Wheelchairs? No thanks. This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. Just drain that pesky knee and he’ll be fine. Kobe averaged 29.2 PPG, 6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in the playoffs en route to his 5th championship and the Lakers 2nd in as many years. Three previous surgeries in the good old U.S.A. weren’t enough to mend the Mamba but thankfully Germany had just what the doctor ordered for Kobe. So after the season was over Kobe went to Germany and underwent some experimental surgery to help fix his ailing knee. Kobe is on record as saying that he barely practiced at all because there was so little cartilage under his bum knee and he didn’t want to risk further injury. Practice? We’re talkin about practice man. Not a game, not a game. Practice.
2011 Playoffs: Oops I Sprained It Again
Thankfully this ankle sprain during the first round of the playoffs wasn’t serious enough to require that Kobe miss any games. He was still able to lead the Lakers to a series victory over the New Orleans Hornets, but they were no match for the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks who swept Kobe’s Lakers out of the 2nd round. That was frustrating to watch but I don’t think I was as frustrated as Andrew Bynum though. JJ Barea got clotheslined so hard it knocked the 2nd “J” out of his name.
2012 All-Star Game: Masked Mamba
Nobody told Dwyane Wade that you aren’t supposed to foul hard in an All-Star game. It is after all, just a game. He was probably too busy whining to the refs or maybe he was trying to draw a foul by jumping into the air near a defender and flailing around like a jackass. Anywho, Dwyane’s foul gave Kobe a broken nose and a concussion. Was Kobe going to miss any time? Hell no. Kobe strapped on that face mask and looked even more like a super hero on the court. Later on in the season he did sit out for 7 games because of a bruised shin but hey, bruised shins hurt. Kobe only needed 38 points in the final game of the season (against the Sacramento Queens no less) to beat Kevin Durant for what should have been his 3rd scoring title. But what did the Mamba do? He sat out like a boss and let KD have his day in the sun.
April 12th, 2013: The Achilles
If you watched the Lakers last season you were lucky enough to see Kobe Bryant play like a man possessed. He scored 40+ points in eight games, had 11 games with 10 or more assists, and had a shooting percentage of 46.3% from the floor. He played 40+ minutes in the seven games before the Achilles tear and at the age of 34, he was averaging 38.6 minutes per game. Only rookie sensation Damian Lillard averaged more minutes last season. In the game two days before his Achilles injury, Kobe’s stat line was: 47 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals. While those numbers seem astronomical, we all know that there was only one number on Kobe’s mind: 6.
The Mamba gives no less than 100% every single night, even when he doesn’t feel 100%. He was ready to will the Lakers to the playoffs if needed. He was going to give everything he had to make sure they got a shot at another championship. Then it happened. With 3:09 left in the 4th quarter, Kobe hit the floor while driving against the Warriors. He was visibly hurt the whole game but we knew this time was different. He wasn’t getting up right away and he immediately grabbed his ankle. But in true Mamba fashion he eventually got up, and walked over to the bench. Let me say that again, he walked to the bench with a blown Achilles! If that wasn’t incredible enough, Kobe came back onto the court and swished two free throws. They didn’t barely roll in or bounce around on the rim, they swished. What else did you expect?
I almost cried when Kobe tore his Achilles and I got goosebumps when he made those free throws. I’ve seen Kobe score 81 points in Toronto and torch the Knicks for an MSG record 61 points, win 5 championships, and two gold medals. But I can honestly say that none of those accomplishments were as extraordinary as the two free throws on one leg. Nobody had to carry Kobe off the court, he didn’t need a wheelchair, he barely even needed help getting up.
Kobe Bryant is going to come back from the nastiest injury of his career stronger than ever and show us why the argument will always be Kobe vs. MJ when debating the greatest basketball player of all time. We can’t wait to see you take the court again Kobe. The purple and gold just isn’t the same without #24. I’ll leave you with a quote and a bone chilling video, “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”