Kobe Bryant Achilles: This is not Goodbye

By: Chris O’Brien

“So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?”

Kobe Bryant was cornered in the locker room, cameras in his face, microphones, voice-recorders, iPhones all stretched out in front of him. His eyes were not Kobe eyes. Kobe eyes are fearless, confident, always hungry. These eyes were broken with a little bit of redness in them, as if Kobe had been crying.

Behind him was a framed quote by Jacob Riis.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

The hundred and first blow occurred in obscurity. The setting: late game on a Friday night against the Golden State Warriors. Those who saw the play live likely caught the action on the television screen behind the bar. No sound of the announcers to explain why Kobe was on the ground. No idea if this was a twisted ankle, re-aggravated knee injury, something in his foot. However serious the injury was, of course Kobe would limp to the free throw line, hit the two free throws then hobble his way off the court to the locker room.

Then came the Tweets. MRI Saturday. Likely a torn Achilles. Season over.

Career over?

At 34, this would make complete sense. For any other player with that many miles on their legs, they would be better off just hanging up the shoes then trying to rehab for a year and make a comeback.

But Kobe is not any other player. What other 34-year-old plays all 48 minutes of a game scores 47 points, grabs eight rebounds, dishes out five assists, three steals, four blocks, one turnover. What other veteran, nearing the final few years of their career, can log consecutive 45 + minute games and compete for the scoring title. What other 34-year-old is willing to sacrifice his entire body for an eighth seed in the playoffs?

Call it Kobe’s insane competitive drive, his Gollum like desire for ring number six, or Mike D’Antoni not having the authority to overrule Kobe like, for example, Greg Popovich who knows to rest his aging stars, whatever you want to call it, the stonecutter kept hammering away at Kobe’s body, taking for granted that he is, after all, a human being and sometimes a body can actually break down. Even Kobe Bryant.

“This is a ridiculous question I know, but we’ve seen you play through everything, I’m assuming this is something that not even you would attempt to play through. Right?” asks one of the reporters.

The question was really not that ridiculous. If Kobe had been in the position of Kevin Ware, bone sticking out of his body, I would have looked at the screen and said, “Well, ok, obviously he might miss the rest of this game, but he’ll find a way to play in the national title. Right?”

“I can’t walk,” Kobe responds. “I tried to put pressure on my heel, there’s just nothing there.”

Kobe has defeated injuries before, playing through pain for entire months, whole seasons maybe, but this one you can’t just shake off and get back on the court. Kobe has to be able to sprint with guys 10-15 years younger than him; right now Kobe can’t even walk.

The questions piled on: Do you think it was all the extra minutes? What did it feel like? What now? What about the season?

Kobe answered the questions, frustrated but polite, and slowly you could see his eyes turn back into Kobe eyes.

“It’s fuel to me,” Kobe said. “You know, I can feel it already. Players, at this stage of their careers, they pop their Achilles and pundits say, ‘they’ll never come back the same.’ So I can hear it already, it’s pissing me off right now just thinking about it.”

Seemingly on cue, a reporter in the back of the pack chimed in:

“So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?”

Kobe pauses.

“Really?” Kobe responds.

“Well, no, I’m just asking, I’m not trying to be rude,” the reporter stutters. There’s fear in his voice. He’s provoked the Black Mamba.

“Really?” Kobe repeats.

“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to—”

“It’s appropriate that you ask that question from down there,” Kobe says. Everyone around him laughs.

Later that night, I imagine Kobe staring in the mirror, brushing his teeth. “So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?” I imagine him setting up challenges already. Ok, let’s walk from bathroom to bed. “So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?” In the morning, getting to the gym, working out his arms, his shoulders, his good leg. “So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?” After his surgery, asking to do extra sessions of physical therapy. As soon as he is allowed to run, going to the track at five in the morning, sprinting, the words repeating in his head, fueling him. “So, this isn’t the last game we’ll see you play?” Whenever the return will be, probably sooner than we expect, Kobe will come out of the tunnel at Staples Center, entire crowd standing, applauding.

Back to work.

This isn’t the end of the story. The stonecutter raises the hammer again.

Chris O’Brien is the author of Medium Rare, a comedic self-help book with advice on some of life’s smallest problems. Available in book and e-book form on Amazon.