This was no ordinary year for Team USA basketball as they had one goal in mind, to redeem the status and respect of the so-called “Dream Team” by taking home the gold medal. At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece they won a bronze medal, a result deemed unworthy by American standards. Safe to say these Olympic games were not to be taken lightly.
When the United States Olympic Committee hired Duke University’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski to take over after the Athens disaster, anything less than gold was unacceptable. For Kobe Bryant and the rest of the 2008 Dream Team, it was an extra two weeks of practice and games, giving 110% of their energy to represent their country and put Team USA back on top.
Although Bryant returned home with a gold medal, he still had a sour taste in his mouth from losing in the NBA Finals. Enjoying a short two-month break before training camp opened, it was time to lace up the Nike shoes and get back to work, only this time with vengeance.
The Los Angeles Lakers were determined to avenge their 2008 mishap to the Celtics by winning it all in 2009. They finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference, and went on to win the Finals in five games. They went back to the Finals in 2010 for a rematch against the Celtics, in a physically rough seven game series that ended with the Lakers winning back-to-back championships.
So in three consecutive years, the Lakers made it all the way to the NBA Finals, and for Bryant, it amounted to a whopping 698 extra minutes, and 67 extra games. That is 15 games less than a full NBA regular-season.
After the disappointing 2010-11 season, where fans witnessed a decrease in minutes from 38.8 in 2009-10 to 33.9 in 2010-11 and an early playoff exit, Bryant has finally been able to enjoy a longer than usual five month off-season. A break that for the past four years, has been closer to three months, and now with a potential NBA Lockout looming, his time off could be longer.
Now I know there are people out there who believe that NBA players, as well as all other professional athletes, are getting paid lots of money to be in shape and play a full season without getting tired. The fact is they are still human. With practice every day, an 82 game season, traveling cross-country, lack of sleep, and playing double headers, players are entitled to get exhausted, especially stars like Kobe Bryant. To top it all off, the Lakers make the playoffs just about every year, adding on a good 15 to 20 games. So fatigue is bound to happen.
Players also sustain injuries that require time to heal, and those who follow the Lakers know that Bryant plays through pain. So there might be times after travel days and playing through injuries that a player may look like he is giving 70 percent, but in actuality he is giving 100 percent. Unfortunately, the tank is on empty.
Bryant underwent knee surgery after the season to clean out loose cartilage that was causing him some discomfort the past few years. An injury like this needs time to heal otherwise it will continue to reoccur. Cartilage, which acts as a lubricant in between joints, does not grow back, and if it keeps tearing Bryant will have no choice but to retire early.
This long off-season, and possibly extended off-season due to an impending NBA Lockout, could be a great thing for the 33-year old superstar. The more time Bryant has to rest his whole body, and allow all his nagging injuries to heal, the more explosive and stronger he will be throughout the season.