Kobe Bryant to Miss Remainder of Season

For the second straight season, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant has had his season ended prematurely due to a serious injury. Last season Kobe tore his knee, and now he has torn his rotator cuff. Another speed bump in Kobe’s chase to collect a sixth ring, this may be the last straw in what has been an historic 19-year career. Should Kobe decide to return – and knowing the type of competitor he is, that is likely – he will start the 2015-16 season at the age of 37.

Studies have shown that, on average, an NBA player’s knees will last for 14 seasons before the years of deterioration start to cripple and hinder a player’s abilities. By taking a look at year-by-year career statistics for any player who has had a long career in the NBA, the decline that takes place around the 14th season is an obvious trend. This is true regardless of whether a player was drafted out of high school or played four years of college basketball before turning pro. Playing in the NBA takes a heavy toll on the human body, and it is rare for athletes to perform into their late 30s. Even LeBron James, who has gone his whole career without any major injuries, was forced to take off two weeks this season to heal from some nagging injuries. At the age of 30, LeBron is in his 12th season, and approaching the dreaded mark of decline.

The fact that Kobe has outlasted his expiration date is an accomplishment in itself. Playing 19 seasons is nothing to be ashamed of, considering only three players in the history of the game have managed to complete 20 or more seasons in their career. The thing Kobe must consider, at this point in his career, is what is left for him to achieve. With five championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, the 2008 NBA MVP award, 17 all star selections, 11 elections to the All-NBA First Team, eight spots on the All-NBA Defensive Team, two individual scoring titles, a slam dunk trophy, and the distinction of being the all-time leading scorer for the Lakers franchise, it is hard to imagine what keeps Kobe going everyday.

Fans and sportswriters have compared Bryant to Michael Jordan since he came into the league in 1996. Kobe’s thirsts for a sixth championship, which would match Jordan’s legacy in Chicago. In examining the accolades, that is the one item missing from Kobe’s trophy case that Jordan has. While it appears the window has already closed on a championship run for Kobe in Los Angeles due to a weak overall roster in the highly competitive Western Conference, the only way for him to get his sixth title would be to join a contending team. If acquiring that sixth ring is Kobe’s final mission before hanging up his shoes, his only option is to leave the team he has grown up with for one final leap of faith elsewhere.

There is little doubt that Kobe will once again rehabilitate his injured shoulder to make it back in time for the 2015-16 season. Aside from the rehab, perhaps he should turn to those before him who had the fortune of playing a twentieth season and see how they prepared their bodies for two decades of the grueling NBA schedule. With lots of time coming up for Kobe to reflect back on his career, as well as what lies ahead, if he decides to continue, he may need to look into changing his style of play. The days of driving to the basket and dunking over seven footers are behind him. No more diving for balls or leading fast breaks – at least on a regular basis. He could work on simply becoming a spot-up shooter for a team that emphasizes spacing the floor in a half-court offense. Success would be a good bet for Bryant in this type of role for, say, the San Antonio Spurs. This is, of course, pure speculation as Kobe still has one year left on his contract with the Lakers. There would be many hoops to dive through to get Kobe moved to a team that could absorb some of his contract and have this role available within their system.

Whatever Kobe decides to do with his future he still has achieved, possibly, one of the top ten careers in any sport. He would have no shame should he decide to end it all now, even though it is certainly not how he envisioned leaving the basketball world. If he does return for one final season, perhaps he will recognize that season should be played elsewhere – and the Lakers would be willing to accommodate him in his final quest. Kobe may very well have made his final appearance as a Los Angeles Laker. The upcoming summer will reveal much about one of the greatest legacies in professional sports.

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