Father Time is undefeated in sports. No matter how great the athlete, age will eventually cause any superstar to wear down. If there were ever an athlete to refute this claim, it would be Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Since coming into the league in 1996, Bryant has played through a bevy of injuries on his way to a career highlighted by five NBA championships and over 36,000 career points. Few players in NBA history have been able to play at an elite level for as long as Bryant. But after 19 years, it appears Father Time has won again.
After aggravating a shoulder injury against the New Orleans Pelicans, Bryant requires surgery on a torn rotator cuff that will most likely keep him out for the rest of the 2014-2015 season. This is the third consecutive season for Bryant that has been cut short by an injury. After rupturing his Achilles late in the 2012-2013 season, Bryant came back midway through last season for only eight games before breaking a bone in his knee that ended his 2014 campaign.
Now that his third straight season has ended in injury, the future of one of the greatest players of all time is somewhat uncertain. Although it’s unlikely, this setback could mark not only the end of this season for Bryant, but possibly the end of his legendary career. But walking away from the league this way would not be indicative of Bryant’s career.
For better or worse, Bryant’s entire career has been on his own terms. He left for the NBA out of high school before that move became common. He constantly feuded with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, causing Shaq to leave town after winning three titles in Los Angeles. He ignored critics who called him selfish and continued to hoist 20 shots per game. It would only be fitting if Bryant’s career ended on his own terms as well.
Bryant has always been known for his willingness to play through injuries. He famously sank two free throws and walked off the court after tearing his Achilles. After tearing his rotator cuff against New Orleans, he hit one of his trademark turnaround jumpers using only his left hand. But his willingness to rehabilitate should be called into question this time. Bryant has one year remaining on his contract, and after rehab, he will spend one more year with a Lakers team that will likely be terrible.
But no injury has ever shut down Kobe Bryant and neither will this one. He’s too competitive to leave basketball in this fashion. Barring any setbacks during rehab, Kobe Bryant should return for a 20th season in Los Angeles. Fans across the league deserve one last chance to watch one of the greatest to ever play the game.