Kobe Bryant is set for a triumphant return to the court on Dec. 8 against the Toronto Raptors, making this a perfect time to trace the Los Angeles Lakers superstar’s eight-month journey from when he suffered the devastating Achilles tear up until now.
The Lakers had the official report:
If you haven’t been following the Black Mamba’s rehabilitation process closely, you will see how he “shattered” the normal timetable for a recovery from this type of injury, as well as the sheer amount of dedication he put into coming back.
It’s impressive to say the least, so let's take a look at the highlights from Bryant’s trek back to the hardwood.
April 12, 2013: The Tear
The Lakers were toward the end of a back-and-forth battle with the Golden State Warriors when Bryant collapsed with a torn Achilles.
He injured his knee and twisted an ankle earlier in the contest, but was able to shake those off and continue playing up until his foot failed him late in the fourth quarter during a drive against Harrison Barnes. He would rise from the floor to make his two foul shots, but had to exit after play resumed.
Kobe was helped to the tunnel by teammate Robert Sacre and immediately escorted to the locker room by stadium staff. Although the Lakers would go on to win the critical contest, 118-116, fans feared the worst.
April 13: The Surgery
Bryant underwent an MRI a day after the injury and sent out a picture of him being loaded into the device. The scan revealed that the superstar guard completely tore his Achilles and would need immediate surgery.
Kobe posted another photo, claiming to look like “Mrs. Doubtfire with a jerri curl cap” as he was prepped for the procedure.
A month after, the Mamba decided to give his fans a raw glimpse at the surgery on his Achilles. It’s a bit unsightly and may not be appropriate for all, so click here to see the Mamba’s foot wide open on the operating table.
The surgery was successful and initial estimates were that Bryant could return to the basketball court in six-to-nine months.
April 22: The Cast Comes Off, The Boot Goes On
Bryant couldn’t move much after getting his Achilles repaired, so it must have been a relief to shed the cast in exchange for a walking boot.
He started therapy this same week and said there was no swelling or pain after freeing his foot from the wrap.
April 30: The Stitches Come Out
The Mamba’s progress toward a full recovery continued in incremental steps, this time with the stitches holding his skin together being removed. He was able to put his bare foot on the ground just over a week later.
May 30: The “Medical Mamba” Shoes
Bryant’s main sponsor is Nike, so it’s no surprise the company took the time to make the superstar a custom pair of shoes to aid in his recovery.
The kicks gave extra support to the Achilles while the 17-year veteran began walking in an anti-gravity chamber that lessened the impact of the exercise.
June 22: The Mamba Consults Beckham
Soccer and NBA players may not have too much in common, but suffering an Achilles tear is something the greatest players in each sport have shared.
According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant consulted with David Beckham—who injured his foot back in 2010—about the process and recovery.
Bryant called the talks encouraging, but was still shooting for a November or December return at this juncture—as per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com
June 30: The Practice Gym
The Black Mamba shocked the world when he posted a photo up on Instagram of himself shooting a free throw inside the Lakers' practice facility.
It was accompanied by a simple message, “#showUagain,” and the date, with Bryant seemingly focused on proving his doubters wrong by making a shocking recovery from an injury some thought may end his career.
Aug. 5: The Shattered Timetable
Lakers fans rejoiced when a video from Bryant’s publicity tour in China reached the United States.
The footage showed the Mamba discussing his rehabilitation with a group of rapid fans, telling them that he and his team utilized innovative procedures to cut down on the recovery time.
These aggressive measures—such as removing tendons from his big toe and other “calculated risks”—resulted in a rapid rate of recovery that hasn’t been seen before.
Bryant still wasn’t sure about when he would make his eventual return, but the news was absolutely uplifting to his legion of supporters.
Aug. 19: The Anti-Gravity Chamber
Bryant proved that his Chinese press conference wasn’t just empty talk, this time by posting up a video of himself running in the zero-gravity chamber that he was seen walking in less than three months prior.
This was another significant step in the Mamba’s recovery and one that started fans buzzing about his potential return in the season-opener.
Oct. 8: The Orthokine Therapy
Bryant took a trip to Germany to undergo a round of Orthokine treatment on his right knee.
The veteran snapped a picture of the groundbreaking procedure and uploaded it on Instagram, showing his knee with a number of needles inserted into it.
Oct. 9: The Medical Clearance
Three weeks ahead of the season, Bryant finally received medical clearance to participate in all activities with no restrictions, as per Dr. Robert Klapper.
Kobe stated that he had to get into shape, as his diet and lack of exercise over the past six months meant he had a long way to go.
While Klapper suggested that Bryant may have a chance to be ready for the Lakers’ season-opener against the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 29, that would not come to pass.
Nov. 16: The Return to Practice
After seven months of rehabilitation, Bryant finally returned to Lakers practice, as per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
The Mamba participated in a light, 5-0 workout that didn’t fully test his Achilles, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
Nov. 18: The Full Medical Clearance
While Dr. Klapper had cleared Bryant over a month prior, the Lakers finally announced that the Mamba was fully medically cleared to resume all basketball activities, as per the team’s official website.
Teammate Jordan Hill commented on Bryant’s ability in practice:
He looked real good. He was going real hard. I thought he wasn’t going to be able to go that hard but he was really pushing it. And, I know he’s not ready yet but he’s coming along and he should be ready pretty soon.
Nov. 25: The Contract Extension
Even though Bryant still hasn’t stepped on the court with almost a fifth of the 2012-13 campaign gone by, he was rewarded with a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension by the Lakers organization.
Bryant is now in position to become the longest-tenured player with a single club in league history, as his deal will end after 20 NBA seasons in L.A. John Stockton—the current leader—played 19 with the Utah Jazz.
General manager Mitch Kupchak had this to say about the contract, as per Lakers.com:
This is a very happy day for Lakers fans and for the Lakers organization. We’ve said all along that our priority and hope was to have Kobe finish his career as a Laker, and this should ensure that that happens. To play 20 years in the NBA, and to do so with the same team, is unprecedented, and quite an accomplishment. Most importantly however, it assures us that one of the best players in the world will remain a Laker, bringing us excellent play and excitement for years to come.
Dec. 6: The Announcement
After months of speculation and rumors, the Los Angeles Lakers finally announced a date for Bryant’s return via Facebook.
The organization made a two-minute video of Bryant’s jersey weathering all types of weather and brutal conditions before telling viewers that the “legend continues” on Dec. 8.
L.A. matches up at home against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant is ready to make his 2013-14 season debut in this contest—televised live on NBATV—and it should be considered a must-watch for all fans of the Mamba and Lakers.
Dec. 8: The Return
Bryant is set to return against Toronto, although he will likely have a minutes restriction to deal with initially.
According to the team’s official Twitter feed, Kobe will play some point guard for the team’s depleted backcourt if Steve Blake needs a breather.
However, his minutes will be held to somewhere in the 20s. Coach D’Antoni does not want to risk re-injuring the superstar guard by overplaying him at this point in his career coming off a long rehabilitation.
Expect to see a rusty Mamba out of the gate but make a few plays that remind everyone that he is still one of the greatest players in the league. Bryant’s performance should give Lakers fans hope this season, and his improvement should be rapid over the next few weeks now that he’s finally back on the court.