The generally accepted notion when Kobe Bryant suffered a full rupture of his Achilles tendon last April was that Mr. Bryant would be out of action for a long, long time. A ruptured Achilles is one of the most serious injuries an athlete can suffer, and Kobe was on the wrong side of most of the variables (age, mileage) in the equation that would determine his length of absence. We even interviewed a medical expert on this site who said that most patients don't even begin running until five or six months after their surgery.
Just three months later, it already seems certain that the generally accepted notion is wrong. The word out of Kobe Bryant's (and the Lakers') camp has been increasingly optimistic. First, Kobe was targeting November or December at the latest. Then, it was the start of the season. Last week, on the heels of news that Kobe is three months ahead of schedule, Jim Buss speculated that he would bet a lot of money on Kobe Bryant returning during the preseason. All told, it looks like Kobe is on his way to a miraculous recovery. Hell, at this rate, we might find out that Kobe sneaked into the Lakers' last summer league game by wearing a Chris Douglass-Roberts mask. With anybody else, this might qualify as a shocking development, but with Kobe, it's hardly even a surprise. Kobe returning from injury well before anybody expected him to be back? That's just Kobe being Kobe. Happens all the time.
Which is why I'm so worried about this miraculous recovery timetable. There's simply no way to know until we see him play whether the "Kobe being Kobe" mantra is true because of his Wolverine-like healing ability (which, in reality, translates to a commitment to the healing process that no normal person can live up to), or because of his willingness to push his body past its limits and ignore it's appeals to slow down. Kobe has a history of displaying both qualities, often at the same time: the broken finger of 2009, the many sprained ankles over the years (including last year's Dahntay Jones-inspired sprained ankle) ... there are so many examples of Kobe being willing to play through pain and injury that would cause other players to sit. So, when one hears that Kobe is ahead of schedule in returning from a ruptured Achilles, one can't help but wonder if Kobe is ahead of schedule because Kobe decided the schedule wasn't to his liking.
Therein lies the problem: from all that we've heard about recovering from this particular injury, the recovery process doesn't work that way. You have to be patient and allow the injury to recover. If you push it, your recovery will suffer. Going back to that interview, our expert had this to say about Kobe's recovery process:
Kobe Bryant is going to have to be saved from Kobe Bryant during the rehab process. It can't simply be worked though. It's a delicate process that needs time and patience more than hard work and toughing it out, It's clear, at this point, that this isn't an injury that a man who plays through injuries without hesitation is wired to deal with. It's going to be a meticulous, tedious, road that is going to test mental toughness far more than physical will, and the injury is going to dictate Kobe's future more-so than Kobe himself.
Kobe is going to have to be saved from himself during the rehab process ... Is he? Is he being saved? Because all the timelines and all the optimism and all the upgraded schedules on his road to recovery sure look a lot like his return from every other injury he's ever suffered. And it's not like Kobe has always been known in the past to be completely smart about his return from injury, either. The man deserves all the credit in the world for being a warrior and playing through pain to help his team out, but plenty of times when he's done so, his play has suffered as a result. Sometimes, his return has been more detrimental to the team than good. In Kobe's mind, the team will always, always, be better off with him on the court in whatever capacity he can provide. But Kobe's mind doesn't always match up with reality. Part of what makes Kobe such a special player is his insane confidence in his abilities under all circumstances, but the reason why that confidence is insane is because it isn't always true.
And besides, there is absolutely zero reason for Kobe to be rushing back for the start of this season. With Dwight Howard out the door, and a slew of guys brought in on one year deals, it is clear to all that, while the Lakers do seem intent on doing their best and trying to field a competitive team this season, they aren't exactly investing a lot on this year's chances for success. Considering what last year's team accomplished (or more importantly, what they failed to), considering what has been lost and what has been gained, it's difficult to believe the Lakers will compete with the other top teams in the West, no matter what kind of form Kobe Bryant returns in. They sure as hell won't do so if Kobe returns in such a way as to limit how much of his former glory he can re-capture.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is all worrying for nothing. Maybe Kobe really is three months ahead of schedule because his commitment to the healing process is second to none, and his surgery was performed by the best surgeon in the world, and everything about his recovery is just going perfectly. Maybe it has nothing to do with Kobe being impatient, or pushing his body before it is ready to be pushed. Maybe there is nothing to worry about. I'm not a doctor. I'm not part of Kobe Bryant's inner circle. There is a whole world of information that I can't know about Kobe Bryant, and about his healing process.
All I know is that Kobe Bryant has a history; a history of returning from injury faster than is normal. A history of playing through pain. A history of finding ways to play through an injury instead of letting that injury heal in the natural way. I also know that Kobe Bryant has an injury, a very serious injury, an injury that, if experts are to be believed, should not be treated in the way that Kobe Bryant has treated all of his injuries to date.
I know Kobe's history, and I have common sense, and so I am worried about Kobe Bryant's miraculous recovery.