March 22, 2011
Stuck in the midst of watching him attempt to lead his Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight NBA title, it's easy to forget that Kobe Bryant(notes) made his NBA debut on Nov. 3, 1996. His first game as a pro came two days before the presidential election that resulted in Bill Clinton earning a second term in the White House, and though Bryant had just turned 18 2 1/2 months before he suited up against the Minnesota Timberwolves that night, he's really packed on the minutes since then.
He has 39,724 career minutes, as of this writing. Alongside 7,811 career playoff minutes, as well. And that pairs up with untold hours in the gym during what, to the typical NBA player, is downtime. No player of Bryant's generation (and, if we're kind, the generation that came after him) has worked harder.
So it makes sense that Kobe might be dealing with all manner of untold wear and tear injuries. And though we've known about his dodgy right knee for quite a while, the extent of his frustration isn't as obvious to those of us who are following at home.
Luckily Dave McMenamin has the scoop:
It's the same resolve that fueled him to go on to win Finals MVP for the second consecutive postseason last year despite playing on a right knee that was worse than anyone could really understand. He didn't just have the knee drained once in the first round against Oklahoma City as was widely reported, but twice more -- between the second round against Utah and the conference finals against Phoenix and again between Games 4 and 5 of the Finals -- according to a team source.
Having your knee drained helps with mobility, and it goes a long way toward relieving the pain created by fluid build-up in an overtaxed joint. But the draining itself hurts like hell, and though the procedure isn't as invasive as out-and-out surgery, it still takes a lot out of you. Literally and figuratively.
For Bryant's knee to be so overtaxed that the fluid buildup demanded a draining on a nearly monthly basis during the playoffs last year says quite a bit. And his right knee isn't even his stronger knee. Kobe is right-handed, so he does most of his jumping off of his left leg.
Kobe earned quite a bit of rightful stick around these parts for choosing to go public with his postgame shootaround, rather than doing his work in the anonymity of the practice court in the American Airlines Arena a few weeks ago. But while he may be a bit of a showboat in that regard, the man still puts in the time. And his body, 14 seasons in, is paying the price.