LOS ANGELES — Before his stellar individual accomplishments and stunning Achilles tendon rupture last NBA season, and not long after he won the Olympic gold medal, there was a really good question posted to USA Basketball’s Facebook page.
How do you want to be remembered, Kobe Bryant?
“I’d like to be remembered as a person who overachieved,” Bryant answered. “I have natural abilities and talent. I would love to be remembered as a person who maximized that potential and did everything he possibly could to see his talent through.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, March 12 at 2:35 p.m. ET
The Lakers have made the news official that Bryant will miss the remainder of the season, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
--End of update--
The points and championships are the rewards; the dedication and drive are the backbone on which he has ascended into basketball legend.
Underdog or favorite, Bryant respects anyone who pushes past accepted limits. Take your hunk of junk 55 in a 35-mph zone, rev your Ferrari 90 in a 55 or just hop in your helicopter if you happen to have that at your disposal—and get your [expletive] done better and faster than anyone could’ve imagined.
So a season of six NBA games (and his Los Angeles Lakers sitting in the Western Conference cellar) would be deeply disappointing to any player. For Bryant, it is a total car wreck.
At least last season he did better than anyone expected, playing insane minutes and pulling the team finally toward the playoffs, until the injury chopped him down. This season, even though it was again health related, he fundamentally underachieved.
Bryant plans to be re-evaluated by Lakers doctor Steve Lombardo later this week and is expected to be ruled out of the rest of the season, according to team sources. Bryant’s fractured left knee simply has been slow to heal.
And the question becomes whether Bryant has hit the stage of his career where the disappointments are going to come fast and furious and even the public’s fast-dropping expectations will be more than he can meet.
In short, are Bryant’s days as an overachiever done?
Late last season, Steve Nash marveled that Bryant, 34, was still able to do 95 percent of what he once could. Where is Bryant’s percentage going to be next season at age 36—after so little physical activity and almost no NBA action?
His odometer hasn’t been moving, ‘tis true. But no matter how much blood-spinning and cryotherapy he might undergo and how much he enjoyed floating Benjamin Button references in his renaissance last season, it’s not like he’s sitting out now and getting any younger.
If Bryant was insulted last year at ESPN ranking the Lakers 12th in the West and Bryant the 25th-best player, the reality is that both look like they’ll wind up overly kind projections. The slights Bryant often refers to as “low-hanging fruit” for him to use as motivation? It’s fair to wonder if he has the lift even to reach the low hangers anymore.
Bryant playing only six games in an entire season? That’s fewer than he played in just the 2010 NBA Finals, his last title and the one that now just about everyone assumes will indeed wind up being his last title.
So there you have it. He’s set up now.
The guy who referred to the 2010-11 season and the Lakers’ failed three-peat as “a wasted year of my life” just hit a career low in that regard.
Even his most ardent fans are wondering if the world as they knew it has gone flat, with Bryant’s so-black wardrobe this season a testament more to the funeral of him as we knew him. The guy who used to pride himself on beating every medical timetable—and did just fine with his post-Achilles six-to-nine-month estimate by returning in less than eight months—just took an injury prognosis of six weeks and is about to make it 17.
Expectations have plummeted way, way down—for him and whomever Lakers management adds to work in Mike D’Antoni’s share-the-ball system that's not really suited for Bryant’s game.
Yes, Bryant is so, so set up now.
It’s hard to see now, but is there one last run in him that leaves people shaking their heads in disbelief, but then immediately nodding their heads in renewed trust because, well, it’s Kobe, so what did you expect?
He felt awfully good about that last game against Kobe-stopper Tony Allen in the victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 17, the pull-up jumper finally having returned to Bryant’s satisfaction.
Now an entire offseason of training and strengthening, as opposed to last summer’s strict rest and rehab, awaits him. Ready to coincide with that work is the relentless work ethic that has been forced to be uncommonly idle lately.
He’s admittedly old, he’s definitely down, but he is not out.
The chance to overachieve has always fueled Bryant, and it absolutely will again.