For nearly two decades, the Black Mamba has played. A lot. And he's played through anything and everything. He's defied what we know about age, physical affliction and stamina in general.
Amid all that playing, that noncompliance with mortality, it hadn't truly dawned on anyone, including Bryant, how much of an exception he was. Averaging 38.6 minutes per game was, and remains, impressive. But few understood that he was just the 12th player in NBA history to log at least 38 minutes at the age of 34.
But then this—the game against the Warriors that saw Bryant go down to a ruptured Achilles injury and then attempt to play through it.
Lakers trainer Gary Vitti confirms its a ruptured Achilles tendon and Kobe Bryant will be sidelined 6-9 months.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 13, 2013
Refusing to leave the game was vintage Kobe. Eventually conceding to it was not. It was tragic.
Strike that, it's more than a tragedy. It's more than just a gut-wrenching loss for the Los Angeles Lakers. More than yet another impediment standing between them and a playoff berth.
It's a devastating loss for the entire NBA. To see someone like Kobe, with that kind of legacy, with that kind of fight and commitment, crumble to the floor doing what he had done a million times before is execrable.
An emotional Kobe: "I made a move I've made a million times, and (the Achilles) just popped."— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 13, 2013
It just plain sucks.
There isn't another way to put it. When someone like Bryant, so dedicated, competitive and relentless overall, suffers an abrasion of this magnitude, it just seems unfair.
And because it's so unjust, we want to point fingers. To play the blame game. To hold someone other than Lady (Bad) Luck.
But we can't.
Members of the "it's Mike D'Antoni's fault" coterie need to get off the soapbox and understand that this is no one's fault.
People blaming D'Antoni for this is ridiculous.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 13, 2013
D'Antoni allowed Kobe to exhaust himself for more than 38 minutes per game, log more than 40 for seven straight and eight of the last 10, but just as well documented are his numerous attempts to rest Bryant. The Mamba just wouldn't have it.
Of course, it's up to the coach to make an executive decision, but there are exceptions to the rule. Kobe is one of them. He tells coaches when he'll sit; it's not the other way around. And it's not as if this is something new. Bryant has been a minutes anomaly before. For most of his career, in fact.
Kobe has combined to average 36.6 minutes per game over the last 17 years, and he's averaged under 36 just once since his sophomore season.
In 11 of his 17 seasons, Bryant has logged more than 38 minutes per game, tied for the third most in NBA history.
Only Wilt Chamberlain (14) and Allen Iverson (12) have more. His five years of averaging at least 40 minutes a night also put him in the top 15 of that category as well. Michael Jordan himself has just nine.
And yet, that hardly does Bryant's commitment to playing justice.
Bryant has logged 40 or more minutes 530 times in his career. By comparison, Jordan has 478. Even when you limit Kobe's sample size to that of his first 15 seasons (the same number of years His Airness spent in the NBA), he has more than Jordan (480).
Does this mean he's better than Jordan? More durable?
No, it's just a fact. Bryant being on the court has always been a formality. Just as much (if not more) as it was with Jordan and anyone else. And until going down against the Warriors, that hasn't changed.
This season alone, he's played at least 40 minutes 30 times—more than the past two seasons combined (28). Following the victory over Golden State, the Mamba had played in 40 or minutes in seven consecutive games, and that wasn't even his longest streak of the season. Earlier in the year, he received 40-plus minutes of burn in 10 straight contests.
Even Jordan, who played 40-plus minutes 39 times during the regular season when he was 34, never managed to string together more than three consecutive contests while eclipsing such a mark.
Bryant himself has had similar streaks in just four other seasons, and his 10 straight games of 40 or minutes ranks as the fifth longest of his career.
Again, this doesn't prove Kobe is better than Jordan. It just reinforces the notion that he's superhuman—a warrior who has spent just as much time on the court as he has breathing.
In fact, since Bryant has entered the league, only Kevin Garnett (45,490) has logged more regular-season minutes (45,390). No one has logged more minutes during the postseason (8,641), and he's second in playoff minutes overall to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kobe Bryant is 2nd among all NBA players, ever, in playoff minutes: 8,641 (Kareem, 8,851). He's 14th in reg. season (45,390).— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 13, 2013
So while we'd like to believe that minutes were the driving force behind his injury, we can't.
Suppose his workload was the cause for what transpired against Golden State. What does that really mean?
Kobe himself has said that his time spent on the court was a necessity. It had to be done. The Lakers needed him. And just like he's done for almost 20 years, he's sacrificed his body and any rest it needed to keep the team afloat.
Kobe on if injury had to do with minutes load: "Who knows? It was all necessary. It’s just a freak situation, I guess."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 13, 2013
This season saw Bryant play more than he has since 2009-10, and his streak of 40-plus minutes was the longest since 2005-06. But every minute of every game was essential. Those two free throws he hit after going down were a necessity (the Lakers beat the Warriors by just two). Everything he's done has been out of need.
With the Mamba now out for six to nine months (I'll bet on five), it's imperative that we understand that this was all part of the plan. Not his injury, but his presence.
The plan was for the Lakers to count on Kobe like they had for 16-plus years—for him to carry them by being on the court for as long as humanly possible.
"If you see me in a fight with a bear, prey for the bear," Bryant wrote in a Facebook post. "Thats 'mamba mentality' we don't quit, we don't cower, we don't run. We endure and conquer."
The latest is just one more thing he must suffer and persist through. And we have to believe he will.
Because a Kobe who doesn't persevere is just as foreign as one who doesn't play.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference.