I’m not entirely sold on the fact that Kobe Bryant is a human being.
I’ve seen the Black Mamba play through ankle, back, wrist, finger and shoulder injuries that would have sidelined some of his peers for double, or even triple, the time that he missed—if he was even out for any time at all.
After his ankle “just popped,” as he described it, Bryant limped back onto the court and hit two clutch free throws to tie the game with three minutes left before coming out. In his postgame interview, via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Bryant vowed that his career wasn’t over but referred to the looming comeback as a “mountain.”
Seeing him so seriously injured was one of the few times in which Bryant legitimately seemed like a normal human.
Watching him prepare to return in 2014 for his 18th season is the latest instance that proves to me that the Mamba is of a different breed.
Bryant has promised from day one that he’d be ready for opening night next season, but that was initially taken with a grain of salt. Of course that’s what he was going to say—he’s Kobe.
On July 10, Bryant’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robert Klapper, tweeted that his patient’s vow would become a reality. The Mamba will be ready for the start of the season.
The fact that he’ll be ready for the opening game is amazing, but some questions still need to be asked. When will Kobe be Kobe again? Will he ever be the player he once was?
This is the strongest-willed player since Michael Jordan we’re talking about here. If anyone is going to come back from this injury stronger than ever, it’ll be the Black Mamba.
Bryant has played 45,390 minutes over the course of his 17 years as a professional, which ranks 12th all time in the history of the NBA, via Basketball Reference. Scarcely has he ever played 100 percent healthy, but that hasn't altered his production one bit. The dude’s a warrior.
Last season, Bryant put together a campaign that included 27.3 points (third highest in the league), six assists (tied for his career best) and 5.6 rebounds per game. The notion that he’s slowing down is nonsense.
Will he struggle when he first returns from the injury? Perhaps—his athleticism may take a hit, but his heart and desire will only grow.
At 35 years old, though, coming off of a typically career-shattering injury, he’ll still be the Black Mamba. There will be moments next season where all you can say is, “Wow.”
Bryant had quite a few moments like that last season: when he threw down a monstrous jam on Chris Paul, when he locked up LeBron James in the All-Star Game, when he banged in a game-winning dunk against the Toronto Raptors, when he had six games with double-digit assists in the season’s last two months and when he literally dragged the Lakers into the playoffs—the list could go on for pages.
But will there be one special, definitive moment where Bryant officially proves once and for all that he’s back? No—but by the end of the season, it will be clear that he is.
I’m not promising you that Bryant will win MVP or that the Lakers will make a run in the playoffs next season. All I’m saying is that in 2014, despite suffering a torn Achilles last season, Kobe will be the Mamba once again—the same Kobe who has grown from a cocky high school kid (who used the phrase “taking my talents” way before LeBron did) into one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
This injury is one that no other player outside of Dominique Wilkins (who was still younger than Bryant when he dealt with it) has been able to fully recover from and maintain their level of production on the court.
Despite all of the medical diagnoses, the history of failure from players who suffered the same injury and the fact that he’s going to be 35 years old next season, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Bryant will be able to make a full recovery. He will continue dominating the NBA until he walks away from the game on his own power.
Bryant wrote a long, heartfelt post on his Facebook account following the injury, and in the note he used a quote that really embodies who he is as a person and as a basketball player: "If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear."
And there you have it. Whether it be a bear or an Achilles injury, nothing is going to stop Kobe Bryant.