A fracture of the lateral tibial plateau isn’t typically a career-ending injury, but for Kobe Bryant it’s a scary one to suffer at this point in his career — and likely not the last he’ll have to endure.
Bryant’s 2012-2013 season was cut short when he suffered a tear of the Achilles tendon which ultimately put his career in jeopardy. But he fought back to form and made his debut this season eight months after tearing the tendon. He lasted just six games before suffering his latest setback, which will keep him out of action until at least February.
Perhaps he will come back again in February and finish the season healthy. But there is no way Bryant will ever return to being the player he once was. His 25 points/5 rebounds/5 assists per game usual stats are no longer to be expected from the 35-year-old 18-year pro (all spent with the Lakers). No longer can you expect Bryant to be out on the floor for 40 minutes a game in close to 100 games a season. There’s been too much wear and tear on his body, and this recent spate of all-at-once injuries looks like cruel karmic payback for Bryant’s nearly two decades of injury-free basketball.
The never-ending debate on who — if anyone — would be the next Michael Jordan has always included Bryant’s name. And while Bryant has done enough to this point in his career to justify such praise (five NBA championships, one MVP trophy and a 15 All-Star selections, to start with), this injury could very well mark the beginning of the end for the Los Angeles Lakers superstar.
If Bryant never plays another game in his life, he will still go down as one of the greatest. He ranks fourth in all-time scoring and will likely end up passing Jordan, whom he trails by 592 points, before he calls it quits. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 career points, which it once seemed like only a matter of time before Bryant would reach and surpass, might be out of reach now. It’s unlikely Bryant will stick around just to break the record if he’s not performing at his usual elite level.
Despite the Twitter optimism, it seems like the cards are stacked against Bryant. Ten years ago, there would be no doubt he would return and lead the Lakers deep into the playoffs. Not so now. And transitioning into the next phase of his career — as a role player, not a court-dominating star — will be as tough for Bryant as his injuries have been.