There’s a scene on ‘The Walking Dead’ that sums up what we all saw when Kobe Bryant went down with a torn Achilles last night.
One of the leaders of the group facing the zombie apocalypse, Shane, figured to test the idea that the zombies, otherwise known as “walkers”, were as human as Herschel felt they were. Shane, pissed off from the idea that walkers were being held up in the barn while every slept only a short distance away, took his gun and shot a walker dead in the chest, the blast didn’t do anything until Shane shot it dead in the head.
“Why is it still coming after me?!” Shane demanded an answer knowing what it was. They weren’t human, no matter how much Herschel wanted to pretend they were.
I’m Herschel, in utter denial that Kobe is actually human.
It was long before he ran off a string of averaging 45.6 minutes per game as he ended his 17th NBA season that I realized Kobe wasn’t like the rest of us.
In 2003, the Lakers were still Shaquille O’Neal’s team, but there was still clear evidence that Kobe was ready and willing to step into his own; so he did. That was when he scored 40 points in nine consecutive games, I can never forget it.
46, 42, 51, 44, 40, 52, 40 again, 40 again, and 41 to top it off. It didn’t make any sense, but it happened. It wasn’t since Wilt that we saw someone score 40 points with such regularity; but that’s what Kobe has lived to do, astound us.
In case I needed more clarification on just how good this dude was, he spent the next few years on a scoring tear until he did the ridiculous: score 81. Eighty-one points in a single game.
I’ll never forget the morning that I woke up to turn Sportcenter on with a Wilt/Kobe graphic comparing the two highest-scoring games in NBA history. Wilt with his NBA-record 100 points, and Kobe had his 81. I was in awe of the accomplishment, but I wasn’t at all surprised by who achieved it. It was seven years ago that I realized that there was nothing Kobe couldn’t do on a basketball court.
He spent those first few years without Shaq shattering records and dropping jaws, my own was not an exception. He scored 62 in three quarters, he had four consecutive 50-point games, and he even broke Bernard King’s record for most points at Madison Square Garden with the most efficient 61 that I’ll certainly ever see.
The thing that will always stand out about Kobe’s career is the fact that he strived to only stand out, he was never one for tradition.
While everyone else was being compared to Michael Jordan, Kobe embraced the challenge and embodied him to the best of anyone else’s memory. His jumper was eerily similar, and just as effective. His confidence was never shaken, even if he sometimes fell short in the moment. The trick for him has always been the finish, not the beginning.
In his rookie year, Bryant air-balled three key shots in the first round of the playoffs versus the Jazz. Since then, he’s become one of the most feared players in close game situations that the NBA has ever seen.
So, I don’t mind his confidence in being coming back from a fully ruptured Achilles tendon. No NBA player who suffered the same injury before him came back to have an especially productive career, but no one before Kobe averaged 27.1 points per game in his 17th NBA season. If anyone can come back from this with any level semblance of his old self, it’s Kobe.
But I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried when I saw him clutching his left ankle as he finally showed signs of being of this world, being human, being one of us. He grimaced, he limped, and he even cried as he explained the reality that the season he’s fought so hard to keep alive slipped through his fingers because his body finally betrayed him.
Even with that being the case, I somehow find solace in the fact that he’s not playing for a while because he simply cannot walk, not because there’s an injury to nurse. Kobe has played on a sprained ankle, surgically repaired knees, bum shins, and more things than I’m able to recall.
Whether he comes back isn’t the disheartening part of the fact that he has a 6-9 month rehab ahead of him, it’s the fact that Friday night served as a preview to the inevitable: Kobe leaving the game for good.
No matter how much further Kobe extends his career, he won’t be around forever. There will be a last walk off of the court, there will be that last bucket to score, and there will be that last minute he plays that will further boggle our minds when we consider the 53,000-plus NBA minutes he’s already logged.
So, when people see Kobe step foot onto the court again, there will be questions about why he keeps coming back, why he wants it so badly, “Why does he keep coming back for us?!” will be the questions asked by the beings of this world.
Those inquiries will be answered by the simple fact that Kobe isn't at all like the rest of us. That's what will make his rehab and return all the more great, and that's what will make that last walk he'll eventually take off the court one to remember.
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