Kobe Bryant has had a recent resurgence. After starting the season as one of the lesser performing players in the entire league, he has strung together two weeks of plus-play, improving his efficiency in every aspect of his game and looking more the part of Kobe Bryant. This was summed up well by a tweet from ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh before Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder:
Kobe's PER first 17 games: 9.1? Kobe's PER last 7 games: 25.9 ?
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 23, 2015
The depths of his early season play put into question whether a stretch like this was even possible, much less if it would actually come. As the saying goes, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train and it looked very much like #24 was on the verge of being flattened by a locomotive powered by father time.
This recovery, then, has been a great site to see. And based on what has gone into getting his body to the point where he could play at the level he has been recently, it’s also apropos to use the term recovery.
As detailed in Baxter Holmes’ most recent piece for ESPN, Kobe has enlisted a small army of physical therapists — both under his own employment and from the Lakers’ staff — to work on every part of his body to ensure he is ready to play each day. The entire article is great and well worth your time, but below are a few passages which stood out to me.
On whether there is any “normal” day for how Kobe is treated:
There is no normal game-day routine for Kobe Bryant, and members of the Lakers’ training staff who tend to Bryant on a daily basis — some of whom have done so for his entire career — say they cannot emphasize that point enough.
There is only, the team’s specialists add, how Bryant is feeling that day, which varies.
Both Bryant and the specialists often call this stage “uncharted territory,” because no guard has played this long, and it’s all but unheard of for an athlete to still play after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, let alone do so at his age. Add it all up, and there’s no blueprint to follow…
So every day is, as Bryant often calls it, a “puzzle” for both him and the staff. What must they assemble? Him.
He consistently calls keeping his body in order an “all-day process,” and if there is a normal game day, or something that’s even in the same ballpark, it typically begins long before Bryant even arrives at the arena in the midafternoon, when he meets with a personal trainer to target whatever body part (or parts) ail him at that very moment.
On the challenge of keeping Kobe loose during games:
During games, Lakers coach Byron Scott tries — though he doesn’t always succeed — to stagger Bryant’s minutes, so that Bryant plays about 30 — or around there — but doesn’t spend long stretches on the bench, lest his legs become stiff. And even when he’s on the bench, Bryant has tried to stay loose, as well.
For instance, during a Dec. 2 win over the Wizards in Washington, where Bryant scored a season-high 31 points on 10-of-24 shooting in 36 minutes, he ran in place and bounced up and down on the sideline when he wasn’t in the game.
Afterward, Bryant jokingly compared himself to the over-the-top exercises Jim Carrey’s zany character did before a basketball game in the movie “Cable Guy.”
“During a game, I just try to move around as much as possible,” Bryant says. “Normally, when you sit on the bench, you try to rest your legs. It’s like, f— that. Rest ain’t gonna make no difference — if I can’t move, it’s not going to f—ing matter.'”
On Kobe’s receptiveness to learning about his body and the new methods he has undertaken in recent years to try and maintain his level of play:
“Over the years, he’s paid attention to what people would say to him,” Vitti says. “So he knows what iliotibial band syndrome is. He knows what the quadratus lumborum is. He knows what the erector spinae is. He’ll come in and say, ‘I need this released.’ A lot of guys, they don’t want to know all that … but he wants to know. ‘What are you doing? What is that?’ He’s always been that way. You’ve got to give him credit for that.”
Another element that Vitti praised is Bryant recently adopting Fusionetics, a sports science-infused injury prevention and recovery enhancement/performance improvement program founded by physical therapist Dr. Mike Clark that is used by several professional teams.
“I think in the last year, Kobe has finally bought into this Fusionetics thing, and his training has become much better, in my opinion,” Vitti says.
There is a ton to unpack here, but I have a few scattered thoughts:
- Like some athletic version of Humpty-Dumpty, Kobe really does have “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” trying to put him back together on a daily basis. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes at what goes into keeping him at a physical level to perform.
- The dedication of Kobe is phenomenal here. I cannot speak to how many guys put themselves through similar levels of treatment, but I would imagine the number is low.
- The part about fusionetics interests me for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it is another glimpse at the Lakers using forward thinking techniques — something they aren’t always known for. What this also highlights, though, is that this is a two-way street. Vitti implies that Kobe only recently (in the last few years) started to embrace these techniques, also stating that he didn’t always agree with Kobe’s methods of training towards exhaustion. In order for teams and players to really maximize newer techniques, the players must embrace them. It’s good to hear that Kobe is, but I am hopeful some of the other players — especially the younger guys — would follow suit too.
- I remember several years ago Kobe discussed how his diet was the “last frontier” of what he could change to try and maximize what he got from his body. It’s clear Kobe has taken those steps, but it’s also clear that the injuries Kobe suffered changed what the last frontier really was. Rehabbing and, now, recovering on a daily basis requires much more than changing what he eats/drinks.
Kobe attributes his recent level of play not only to the techniques Holmes details, but to building up his body through using the techniques consistently to form a baseline of how he feels daily. It’s not just about him doing the cold tub /going through extra stretching/having physical therapists work on specific parts of his body one day one day so he can feel better the next, it’s about doing those things day after day for weeks/months to create a new norm. Now that this routine has been established, he is hopeful that this will actually be the case.
Time will tell, of course. A strong two weeks is not a season. But this recent string also has made us reassess and reconsider that his first poor month did not make a season either. For that, I am grateful. Even if it does take an army to get him through his all-day process.