To be sure, we’re not saying he’s been undervalued or anything like that his entire career. Upon being drafted out of high school and then joining the Los Angeles Lakers almost immediately, doubters rose to the surface. And it’s been that way ever since. The championships, All-Star games and countless other individual accolades. Few, if any, expected him to do what he has done.
For the most part, it’s been the same through injury. Kobe has never missed more than 17 games in a single season. Never, ever. Which is huge, because he’s been playing for almost two decades. Surely his body would succumb to some kind of injury, rendering him incapacitated for at least 20 straight games at some point.
Like his latest bout with mortality, for instance.
After rupturing his Achilles, some feared that he wasn’t only done for the remainder of last season and part of next season, but perhaps his career. Those who believed the latter should know better, though. And now it’s becoming clear that they might.
Initial shock having subsided, more and more supporters are coming out of the woodwork, predicting that Kobe is going to be back early or in time for opening night.
His latest advocate is none other than Shaquille O’Neal, former teammate and in-house adversary, and resident giant.
Speaking with Time Warner Cable SportsNet, Shaq said he believes Kobe will take the court earlier than originally expected.
“I’m sure Kobe is going to come back early,” he said,as transcribed by the Los Angeles Times‘ Eric Pincus. “Anything before nine months is early. Him making the first game, I wish him well. He’s a very, very competitive kid. He loves the naysayers. He loves proving people wrong.”
First off, “kid?” Since when is someone approaching 35 classified as a “kid,” especially when the person doing the delegating is barely six years older than the person he’s making reference to? Kobe is no kid. Even when he was first drafted, he was a man amongst men, and it’s been that way ever since. Well, not entirely. With Dwight Howard in the locker room last season I imagine he was a man amongst some other men and a boy.
Anyhow, Shaq didn’t hesitate to back Kobe. These days, no one seems to. I myself have penned pieces before about how Kobe will prove all of us wrong, but it’s gotten to the point where most of us expect him to be on the court come opening night. I know I do.
While that attests to the advancements in medicine, the savvy of his doctors and the ridiculous worth ethic he possesses, it also means that Kobe will have to exceed already lofty expectations if he is to prove anyone wrong. I’m talking come back and lead a less-than-intimidating Lakers team to the playoffs or average 27-plus points a night again. Not just return in time for the first game of the NBA season.
Making his comeback earlier than projected is certainly an accomplishment, one few in the game may have been able to stake claim too. But 17 years later, we expect that from Kobe, so while it doesn’t diminish what him returning early would mean, it kind of does.
“When he put the rumor out there that he may be back the first game, best believe he’s trying to come back the first game,” Shaq explained.
Well I certainly believe him, and you probably do too. Count on Kobe, then, to raise the bar so high it’s freaking unfair.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.