Prodigy. NBA Champion. MVP. Scoring king. Icon. Unbelievable. Black Mamba. Legend.
All those words describe the career of Kobe Bryant, an NBA superstar who has time and time again transcended the part of the game (injuries/age) that threatens to topple every player off of their perch as a professional athlete.
After Friday night's scene at the Staples Center, you can add tragic and sad to the initial list.
Bryant was quoted as saying it felt like there was nothing there when he tried to put pressure on his left leg with just over three minutes remaining in the Los Angeles Lakers' 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.
After already scoring 34 points in over 44 minutes of game time against Golden State, Bryant tried to drive left around Warriors' rookie Harrison Barnes. Pushing off of his left foot, Bryant fell to the court before gingerly walking around and eventually being escorted off by teammates.
As reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Bryant is set to undergo an MRI on Saturday afternoon that is expected to reveal a completely torn Achilles tendon in his left leg—effectively ending his 2012-13 season before the playoffs even begin.
It's almost unfathomable to picture, but it could also be the end of Bryant's career.
The reaction to the injury started rolling in on Friday night and went well into Saturday morning. It's a situation where a player has been so great for so long, it is impossible to picture the game without him.
ESPN's Michael Smith was among those feeling the pain:
Just awoke to the news of Kobe's Achilles injury. Gonna go back to sleep. Because I can't believe it's real.— Michael Smith (@michaelsmith) April 13, 2013
CBS Sports' Zach Harper was, too:
Seeing Kobe like that in the post game interview was rough as a basketball nerd. Dude looks broken.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) April 13, 2013
And Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson—dealing with a knee injury of his own—summed up in succinct fashion what most of the country likely felt after the aftermath of the diagnosis:
Damn Kobe— Taj Gibson (@TajGibson22) April 13, 2013
After averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists this season, Bryant was 7/8 of the way there to accomplishing the feat he and the rest of the Lakers set out to accomplish post-All-Star break—making the playoffs.
Bryant has been the pillar in an otherwise unsteady group of Lakers this season, overcoming injuries at various points to miss just two of the team's 80 games. As Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace all dealt with various injuries, Bryant maintained his place in the starting lineup to lead the Lakers back to the postseason yet again.
With just two games to play, the Lakers have a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz and controls its own destiny with respect to the No. 8 spot in the West. While contributors have stepped up across the roster, Bryant's play was the only thing keeping the Lakers afloat.
Black Mamba had vamped up his play over the last seven games, averaging an insane 45.7 minutes per game. While not totally comparable, the last player to average that many minutes per game was Nate "Tiny" Archibald (46.01) in the 1972-73 season, and before that Wilt Chamberlain—the man Bryant passed on the NBA's all-time scoring list this season.
This season was setting up to be Bryant's swan song.
With five NBA championships, the No. 4 place on the all-time scoring list and a shot to catch Michael Jordan in both of those categories in the very near future, what Bryant was doing at age 34 made this season his most impressive assortment of odds-defying accomplishments.
Maybe that's why Kobe's rant on Facebook was so hard to read:
This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The
anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen?!?
Makes no damn sense. Now I'm supposed to come
back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??
I have NO CLUE. Do I have the consistent will to
overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the
rocking chair and reminisce on the career that
was. Maybe this is how my book
ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me...Then again maybe not! It's 3:30am, my foot feels like
dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain
meds and I'm wide awake. Forgive my Venting
but what's the purpose of social media if I won't
bring it to you Real No Image?? Feels good to vent,
let it out. To feel as if THIS is the WORST thing EVER! Because After ALL the venting, a real perspective
sets in. There are far greater issues/challenges in
the world then a torn achilles. Stop feeling sorry for
yourself, find the silver lining and get to work with
the same belief, same drive and same conviction as
ever. One day, the beginning of a new career journey
will commence. Today is NOT that day.
"If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the
bear". Ive always loved that quote. Thats "mamba
mentality" we don't quit, we don't cower, we
don't run. We endure and conquer. I know it's a long post but I'm Facebook Venting
LOL. Maybe now I can actually get some sleep and
be excited for surgery tomorrow. First step of a
Guess I will be Coach Vino the rest of this season. I
have faith in my teammates. They will come thru. Thank you for all your prayers and support. Much
However, not even Bryant can stay sad for long.
Rant it was, Kobe refused to go quietly in the night just hours after his horrific injury, vowing to come back stronger than ever. The line about fighting a bear and feeling sorry for said bear is a true paradox to his NBA career.
This is Kobe Bryant we're talking about. If there's one player in the game today that you could say had an outside shot at defying the odds and coming back better, or even at an equal level, to what they were at age 34 after an Achilles injury—it's the man they now call Vino in Los Angeles.
As reported by Arash Markazi of ESPN LA, the injury will only fuel Bryant to get better:
It's fueling me...I can feel it already. Players at this stage of their careers and then they pop their Achilles and they say they're never going to come back the same. I can hear it already. It's pissing me off right now.
It's one of the big reasons why the talk of a career-ending scene is also premature, as noted by his answer to questions of an NBA departure (via ESPN's SportsCenter Twitter):
"Are you kidding?" - Kobe Bryant when asked if his career is over.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 13, 2013
Bryant has a drive and a level of focus that is really unmatched among his fellow NBA'ers. While there are those that disagree, no one shows up to the arena, practice court, weight room and training sessions with a higher level of focus than No. 24.
Then again, it doesn't take away from the sadness of the scene at the Staples Center on Friday. The Lakers got the win and moved closer to the playoffs in the process, but April 12 will always be remembered for the night that Kobe went down.
That being said, it would be foolish to count Kobe out now.
Pending a return, the lasting image of Bryant is a sad one indeed. With the NBA, fans and worldwide good samaritans cheering him on from afar, let's hope that image is one day erased with a triumphant return to a sport that Bryant has helped make far better than it was when he first learned how to play.