By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
The ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered by Kobe Bryant on April 12, 2013 against the Golden State Warriors ended the star’s incredible late-season run. The initial recovery timetable was set at six to nine months. However, recent reports suggest he may be ready to return for not just the start of the 2013-14 regular season, but as early as training camp. While on tour in China, he told gathered reporters that the surgery performed was innovative and thus his recovery has been unique.
“The surgical procedure was different […] and because of that the recovery has been different,” Bryant told reporters in the southern city of Shenzhen. “The normal timetable for recovery from an Achilles, we’ve shattered that. Three-and-a-half months I can already walk just fine, I’m lifting weights with the Achilles just fine and that’s different. So we don’t know what that timetable is going to be. It’s kind of new territory for us all.”’
Obviously, this could just be Bryant’s pride and Lakers’ public relations getting in the way of the actual facts. A return to the NBA after only five months of recovery from a devastating injury seems ridiculous for any player and especially ridiculous for Bryant, who is entering his 18th season in the NBA and turns 35 years old on August 23. And the thought becomes absurd when you factor in the additional offensive burden he will need to carry next season with Dwight Howard gone.
But this is still Kobe Bryant. A freak (according to Steve Nash) and one of the most intense competitors sports has ever seen. He returned exceptionally from a knee injury which he received an experimental procedure for in 2011. So while it may be absurd to expect Bryant back from his Achilles injury so soon, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
His return, no matter how quick, should be handled with caution. The career of Isiah Thomas was ended at the young age of 32 by an Achilles injury and countless other players have seen their careers ruined by this injury. The most successful return from an Achilles injury was performed by Dominique Wilkins in 1992. The Human Highlight Reel was in the middle of another All-Star season with averages of 28.1 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Atlanta Hawks before his season was quickly ended by a torn Achilles’ tendon. Wilkins returned the next season to post the highest scoring season of his career with an average of 29.9 points per game. Wilkins has reportedly reached out to Bryant to give advice about the injury. Like Bryant, Wilkins’ main motivation during his recovery was “to prove all the doubters wrong” and he tells USA Today Sports that he rehabbed twice a day, everyday for nine months after the injury.
This is the type of commitment and determination many expect from Bryant this offseason. In an interview with ESPN Brazil earlier this summer, Bryant talked about his friendship with soccer star David Beckham who also suffered an Achilles’ injury in 2010. Beckham was able to return strong from the injury and continued to win championships, which is most likely the main motivation for Bryant, who will return to a Lakers team in dire need of its star next season.