Nearly every part of the human body comes into play during a normal 48-minute basketball game. Limbs are used to run, catch, and shoot. Fingers control a players’ grip on a basketball, joints allow for mobility, and flexibility. Underneath the skin, muscles produce force and cause motion, ligaments join one bone to another bone, and tendons join muscle to bone.
They’re all very intricate parts, each performing an essential function when a player drives through traffic, squares his body to the basket, elevates over a defender, and aligns the basketball to the basket. If something goes, so too does the player’s ability to perform at the level s/he’s expected, let alone a high one.
Enter Kobe Bryant.
With all the injuries he’s sustained over the course of his career, you’d suppose at 33 years old and with close to 48,838 minutes of basketball under his belt (according to Basketball-Reference.com), that Bryant is no longer capable of scoring more than 40 points on any given night. Now consider he’s scored 40 points during the last four consecutive game nights. The guy absolutely chooses to disregard pain, much in the same way Lakers fans disregard the Clipper Nation.
Bryant’s drive and desire to win acts like an anesthetic, numbing his pain. Phil Jackson even said that out of all the players he had coached—Michael Jordan included—no one had a greater ability to play while injured than Bryant. Really his uniqueness among great players isn’t just his desire to be the best and play under any circumstance, but more so his adaptability to playing with injury.
We can all marvel at the level of play Bryant exerts now, despite back-to-back games, misaligned fingers, and a wrist that swells on a nightly basis, but take a look back and you’ll find, Kobe playing through his injuries is nothing new.
Broken left wrist, September 1996
Fresh out of high school, a then 18-year-old Bryant took to the streets of Venice Beach to quench his thirst for competition. Unfortunately, he lost his balance going for a rebound, breaking his left wrist in the process. Even then the training staff could see Bryant’s drive downplay his injured state. Instead of needing to be pushed post-surgery, they had to hold him back. If he couldn’t run drill sets with the rest of the team, he’d simply just run to build stamina.
Broken right hand, October 1999
During the Lakers first exhibition game under the tutelage of Phil Jackson, Bryant’s hand was hit by an errant elbow in the first quarter, breaking it in the process. Sure, adrenal plays a part in masking an injury, or at the very least withstanding pain, if only for a short time. Undeterred, Bryant continued to play, and in 30 minutes accounted for 18 points, five assists, four steals, and zero turnovers. It wasn’t until two days later when Bryant complained of pain that x-rays revealed he had broken the fourth metacarpal bone in his right hand. After being sidelined for 15 games, Bryant came back to score 19 points against the Warriors.