He is the NBA’s most fabled tough guy; the guy who can be hit by anything and get back up, but now facing the return from yet another season ending injury Kobe Bryant is staring down the barrel as his career threatens to be shot down.
Bryant’s season essentially ended after he tore his right rotator cuff while dunking in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on January 21.
After having undergone successful surgery the estimated return for the 36-year-old is 9 months away.
With another season left to run on Bryant’s contract, the recovery timeline and long road back has caused much speculation of an early retirement.
After all, if we fast forward 9 months, Bryant will be 37, beginning his 20th NBA season and playing for a below par team with no major upsides in sight.
It is incredibly difficult to see the future Hall-Of-Famer have a deserving last hurrah under these circumstances.
A last hurrah that Bryant has earned in spades.
Sadly it may be out of his reach as this latest injury is threatening to do exactly what the Lakers legend feared and push him out the door before he damn well decided.
“Hopefully I’ll be fortunate enough to choose when I retire, as opposed to having something physical or an injury that pushes me through the door,” Bryant said in 2013.
“It’s a matter, really, if I want to continue to do this, continue to sacrifice as much as I’ve been sacrificing to play at this level.”
Sacrifice is the perfect word to describe the last three torrid seasons of Bryant’s career.
We can’t forget the toll that has been placed on the ageing-champion over the last few years while he battled back from a season ending ruptured Achilles in 2013, to only manage six games in 2014 before fracturing his knee and once again being forced to put a line through his season.
For those keeping score Kobe has been struck down three times in three years.
To just suit up for his beloved purple and yellow Bryant has had to sacrifice his physical and mental wellbeing to a level that many can’t even imagine.
For a player who has built his legacy on pillars of: commitment, drive, toughness and loyalty he now faces one of the steepest challenges of his career.
Is there any point in playing on next season?
Bryant proved he had something left in the tank during this season with an impressive 22.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, albeit with a career low field goal percentage of 37.3.
However, we did see his age affect his second half of the season with an early season overload leading to regular rest games, but overall the 5-time NBA champ was more than serviceable.
Then factoring in his experience, leadership and status as a Lakers legend he would certainly be an effective member of the Lakers unit next season.
But, 19 years in the league lays a steep toll on the body.
There is probably more mileage and damage on Kobe’s body than a World War II tank.
To comeback for a third time in as many years, just to possibly break down again and probably play at a level that is beneath him is not an appetising endeavour.
More to the point, he doesn’t have much left to do.
He has won the championship, been the MVP, played in All-Star games and is even the league’s 3rd all-time scorer.
These may seem like pretty good reasons to quit, but Kobe isn’t wired like other people.
Personal sacrifice and his achievements won’t factor into his insatiable competitive drive, and ultimately the decision to play on could come from his hunger to prove the doubters wrong.
If anyone can come back and give themselves an unforgettable send-off it’s Kobe Bryant.
Not since the man that he is constantly compared to, Michael Jordan have we seen this level competitiveness and ability to turn basketball fantasy into reality.
Lakers head coach, Byron Scott is aware of this hunger and refuses to count Kobe out.
“With the Achilles last year, everybody said he was done,” Scott said.
“He came back and I think the first month of the season, he proved to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank.
“I think he still has that hunger and that competitive nature to come out and prove it again.”
No one can blame him if this is in fact the end, but don’t be surprised if Kobe Bryant finds a way to prove everyone wrong one last time.
Written by – Juan Estepa @EstepaJ