While the last game of Kobe’s career is Wednesday, April 13, 2016, a concept I have discussed with more than a handful of fans over the past few years is that Kobe’s career really ended on that fateful night in April 2013 when he ruptured his achilles tendon.
Sure, these last three seasons — two of which ended with injuries to his knee and his shoulder — actually happened, but that wasn’t really Kobe. Kobe ran roughshod over the league. Kobe healed like Wolverine and not only played in games with injuries he shouldn’t have, but played well. Kobe was the guy who would play any amount of minutes it took to try and keep his team competitive and then go that extra mile to then win the game.
What we’ve seen in these recent seasons has been a guy who looks like that player and sometimes even plays like him. But, for the most part, we’ve seen a guy who has failed more often than he has succeeded and, to the shock of most who’ve watched him compete for most of his career, seemed at peace with it.
It all started, of course, with the play where he pushed off his left leg to drive by the Warriors’ Harrison Barnes and, instead of exploding to the rim as he had so many times in the previous months of pushing towards a playoff berth, he fell to the floor like a sprinter who lost his footing out of the starting blocks. He clutched at his heel with his thumb and index finger feeling for a tendon which was no longer intact. He endured the pain (and blocked out any frustration of what he’d known occurred) to shoot — and make — a pair of crucial free throws, then limped off the court under his own power.
That walk off the court was symbolic.