Don’t worry, Los Angeles Lakers fans. Not only will Kobe Bryant play in 2015-2016 despite undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last month, but he also has hopes of leading the purple-and-gold to heights they haven’t reached in years.
In a one-on-one with NBA TV’s Ahmad Rashad, the 36 year-old said he views the aging San Antonio Spurs’ recent renaissance as inspiration for a comeback and is fueled by the very uncertainty surrounding his playing ability.
“I can’t say it is the end,” Bryant said during the interview, which will be aired by NBA TV on Monday night. “I thought the Spurs were done 20 years ago. Those guys are still winning.
“So, to answer the question, I can’t say this is the end of my era because I thought their (era) was done and they’re still there. So I’m hoping I can have the same rebirth.”
At one point during the interview, titled “Kobe: The Interview,” the 36-year-old Bryant was asked what drives him to come back.
“The process of it. I want to see if I can. I don’t know if I can. I want to find out. I want to see,” Bryant said.
Not surprising. Bryant, you may remember, has done this before.
Many openly wondered whether his career might be over after he suffered a torn achilles tendon during April 2013, and far more did the same when he fractured his left knee cap the ensuing December following eight months of arduous rehabilitation – and just five games into the 2013-2014 season. But there Kobe was on opening night back in October, hoisting jumpers and turning heads for a Lakers team that had no realistic aspirations of contention in a loaded Western Conference.
This is what Bryant does. Whether or not he’ll be able to play well upon returning to the floor, of course, is another story entirely.
The Los Angeles legend was a woefully inept primary option before tearing his rotator cuff in late January, and there’s every reason to believe that another medical operation and more wear and tear on his creaky bones will further limit him going forward. But hope springs eternal in competitors like Bryant, even if he’s forced to use a (former) rival like the Spurs to summon it.
What Kobe is forgetting about San Antonio, though, is that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker took relative backseats for their team to reach championship-level status again over the past two seasons. The Big Three has certainly been aided by the rapid development of budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, impact of reclamation projects like Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills, and guidance of genius on- and off- court strategist Gregg Popovich.
Barring a starry summer free agent acquisition and vast improvement by young incumbents, the Lakers won’t fare much better next season than they are in this one – the West is that strong and their straits that dire.
Fortunately for Bryant, however, he showed signs of becoming increasingly comfortable playing for a losing team before falling victim to injury again. His career’s twilight will be far closer to national sideshow and sage mentor than MVP candidate on a title contender, and that seeming inevitability shouldn’t be considered a failure.
So many players would have given up after a spate of such health misfortune, but Kobe’s will and determination trumps almost anything. The sooner he realizes it can’t beat the effects of Father Time and his team’s decided lack of quality, the sooner he’ll enjoy his NBA swan song.