Should LA Lakers Be Worried About Kobe Bryant's Speedy Recovery from Injury?
Those dogs, sweet as they may be, just don't know when to quit.
I remember growing up with a black lab named Fudge (yes, he was overweight). As soon as we let him out into the front yard, he'd run around with reckless abandon, refusing to stop until he'd completely exhausted his massive reserves of energy. And even then, he'd still push the limits.
In fact, Fudge would fly around so much that by the end of the day, the grass would cut up his paws, making it painful for him to walk and causing him to leave the occasional bloody footprint on the driveway.
Did he care? Of course not.
He just didn't know when to stop.
Doesn't the same theory apply to Kobe? Has he ever known when it's in his best interest to take it easy and relax a bit, allowing his body to naturally heal without pushing the limit?
Nothing in the Mamba's career indicates that he has any idea how to do so. This is the man who has routinely played over 40 minutes with nagging pain—the same guy who made two free throws after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Take a look at that play once more.
The free throws begin at 2:15, but the entire sequence is well worth watching. It's not everyday that you see a man tear his Achilles then refuse to leave the game, instead drilling back-to-back freebies to tie the game down the stretch.
Kobe has scored 31,617 points in his career, more than anyone in NBA history save Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. Despite the massive selection to choose from, those two points sum up his career as well as any others.
Throughout the 2012-13 campaign, Kobe routinely stepped up and played almost the entire game. The Lakers needed him to carry the burden in the wake of injuries and turmoil, so that's exactly what he did.
Did it matter that some of those injuries affected his own body?
What do you think?
Down the stretch, the shooting guard started playing even more minutes as the playoff push became even more pressing. During his final seven games, Kobe steered the Purple and Gold to a 6-1 record, but he had to play 45.5 minutes per contest in order to do so.
As relayed by the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke, Kobe even told general manager Mitch Kupchak: "Mitch, I hear what you're saying, but we've got to get into the playoffs and I'm playing and there's nothing you can do about it."
Even with the aches and pains piling up—something the perennially banged-up player is used to—he played in at least 41 minutes during each and every game of that run.
Over the past five seasons, only 14 different players have played that many minutes for so many consecutive games. While guys like Allen Iverson and Stephen Jackson find themselves on the list multiple times, no one did it while so banged up or in such a crucial situation.
Kobe may not play for Golden State, but he's undoubtedly a warrior.
That applies to this particular bit of rehab as well. In order to completely understand, we have to turn to the immediate media reactions in the wake of his Achilles injury.
B/R's Will Carroll, an expert in sports injuries and medicine, published an article called "Kobe Bryant Feared to Have Torn Achilles, Next Season in Jeopardy," one that featured the following quote:
If confirmed, the normal time lost to an Achilles rupture is 10 to 12 months, putting the first half of next season in jeopardy. Remember, Bryant recently said he would make a decision about next year being his last in the NBA.
Kevin Pelton, now with ESPN, also wrote an article for Basketball Prospectus a while earlier that showed the history of Achilles ruptures, intending to explain the difficulty Chauncey Billups faced after his own injury:
Because Achilles ruptures are less common than ACL tears or microfracture knee surgery, they don't carry the same gravity, but the NBA track record with severe Achilles injuries is every bit as negative. While Billups vowed to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski he will return, at age 35 his career is in jeopardy.
One of the interesting takeaways of my quick research on the modern history of ruptured Achilles is that I did not find any players who suffered the injury at such an advanced age. Generally, they have tended to strike players between 28 and 31. (Naturally, this is partially because most players in the league fall into this age band, but players older than 33 are still underrepresented.) Of the 11 players I found with ruptured Achilles tendons in the last two decades, four (including Isiah Thomas, who retired at 32 following a ruptured Achilles) never played in the NBA again. Just four returned to play at the same level by my estimation, though Dominique Wilkins' successful comeback is notable. Wilkins made two All-Star teams after a ruptured Achilles suffered at 32 and played until the age of 39.
Kobe is now attempting to join Wilkins and play at a high level after returning from the injury. And, in his own words, he's shattering the timetable.
We don’t know. That’s the thing about this injury is that the surgical procedure was different, how we did it, was different. Because of that the recovery has been different, the timetable has been different, the normal timetable for recovering from an Achilles, we’ve shattered that. Three-and-a-half months, I can already walk just fine, I am lifting weight just fine. So we don’t know what that timetable is going to be, this is new territory for us all.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Lakers should be worried. If any player is going to push himself to come back too soon, it's going to be an aging Mamba, one eager to maximize the number of games he can spend on the court. Not for a selfish desire, of course, but to help out the Lakers as much as possible.
That said, there's a difference between being worried and truly being concerned.
Is Kobe trying to return too soon?
Worrying is a natural process, and the Lakers would be foolish not to have some nagging doubt in their head. It just means they care and understand the gravity of the situation.
But at the same time, they understand that Kobe would never do anything to actually jeopardize the rest of his career, even if he's attempting to push the limit and return from a severe injury far sooner than humanly possible. He loves playing basketball too much, and the fragility of the remaining portion of his career has to be in the back of his own mind.
Kobe will hurry to have a speedy recovery.
He just won't do anything stupid. After all, he's a Mamba, not a dog.
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