Kobe Bryant faces an unsure future

On the night of Friday, April 12, 2013, all the worst fears of Lakers fans, management and the NBA front office were realized. Kobe Bryant, easily the most famous and controversial player of the last decade suffered a season ending Achilles heel injury that could also end his career. Bryant, who had surgery on Saturday to repair the torn tendon, faces a long hard period of hard work if he plans on returning to the NBA. Some estimates have him returning in time for next season’s opening night in late October while others, focusing on his age (34) and mileage on his legs (17 NBA regular seasons and 220 playoff games plus 2 Olympics), openly wonder if he’ll return in less than a calendar year, if at all.

Bryant, in a pain-medication induced haze, posted a message on Facebook early Saturday morning that neatly encapsulated all the feelings and emotions one could expect from someone in his position: This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that…”

Monday will be the first full day Lakers fans and haters will take to the local radio airwaves to weigh in on Bryant’s injury and what it means to the team both short and long-term. Some will say that it’s the end of any playoff hopes for this season and means that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak must move heaven and earth to re-sign Dwight Howard this off-season. Others will insist that the team can and will play better WITHOUT Kobe because “_____________.” And, on the Lakers flagship radio station, ESPN 710AM, once Colin Cowherd’s national show ends at 10am, it will be non-stop “Kobe Watch 2013” led by team radio play-by-play man John Ireland, the self-proclaimed “unapologetic Laker homer.”

I’ve been watching the NBA since the historic 1966-67 season when the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers to a then-record 68-14 regular season and then defeated their hated rival Boston Celtics on their way to the championship. In all those years, I have never seen a more polarizing figure on his own team than Kobe Bean Bryant. Make no mistake about it: no other player in Lakers history has invoked such a wide range of emotions as he has over his career. Jerry West and Magic Johnson are as beloved as any former players can be. Fans respect and admire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and were awed, amused and frustrated by Shaquille O’Neal’s antics and moods over the years. But, fans either love or hate Kobe Bryant and reaction to this injury will clearly show that.

I for one do not believe that we’ve seen the last of Kobe in a Lakers uniform. Much like Yankee great Mariano Rivera who was hurt during batting practice during a game in Kansas City last season yet returned to play one last season this year, Bryant is going to want to go out on his own terms. And in my opinion, he’s more than earned the right to do so.

Love or Loathe him – there’s no halfway point with Kobe Bean Bryant. He is who he is.


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