There was almost no lucrative extension. No inspirational comeback. After rupturing his Achilles, there was almost no Kobe Bryant.
Much was said in the Black Mamba's cathartic Facebook post following his injury against the Golden State Warriors on April 12 of last season, but it wasn't a tell-all. Though Kobe questioned if he was done, he never, in so many words, actually spoke of retiring.
Nichols: I just mean did you-- did you ever really think-- cause you wrote like, 'Oh, maybe I should just sit on a porch.' Did you ever really think, 'I'm done. I'm gonna retire now?'
Kobe: Well, yeah, I mean, that night, absolutely. Because it-- it's-- you know, you-- you're tired. You know, I just finished my 17th year in the NBA, 17 years. And my body's hurting. And now I just ruptured my Achilles. And I know the amount of work it's gonna take to try to get back to play. It's like, 'Do I-- do I really want to do this?' You know? So, I mean, the-- the-- the finality becomes more realistic.
Kobe's doubt isn't beyond comprehension. It was clear that he was rattled...for about a second.
A diffident Kobe hasn't graced us with his presence in more than six months. Since that night, we've only bore witness to the fearless Kobe. The caustic Kobe. It's been all business. All rehab.
The fruits of his labor have already started paying dividends. From the two-year, $48.5 million extension he signed with his Los Angeles Lakers, to the footage of a dunk from a recent scrimmage, Kobe is steadily becoming whole again.
Rumors of a Friday return even began to gain traction.
Nichols squashed such a notion for us, but according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin, Kobe hasn't ruled out Sunday against the Toronto Raptors:
Kobe tells me he's getting closer to returning but that he's not planning on playing Friday (Lakers' next game)— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) December 5, 2013
Kobe Bryant just told me that he is NOT going to be playing Friday against Sacramento. He is not ruling out Sunday against Toronto, however— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 5, 2013
Eerie, isn't it? To think of how far Kobe has come?
Barely half a year ago, Kobe's career was at risk. Vino himself was contemplating retirement. Not even eight months later, we're only approaching the beginning of the end, not the end itself.
"If this is going to be my last two years, which it probably will be, I'm going to give absolutely everything I have and then some," Kobe told McMenamin.
Kobe's almost back. In heart, will and spirit, he's already back.
Most of him never really left.