(SportsNetwork.com) - If Kobe Bryant has LL Cool J in his Ipod, then the
classic hit "Mama Said Knock You Out" can be found with a quick scroll.
The opening lyrics are "Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years," an
applicable phrase for the future Hall of Famer's upcoming 2013-14 debut.
Bryant has been in the league since 1996, so to call his inevitable return a
"comeback" seems silly. Yes, the five-time NBA champion hasn't played this
season to recover from Achilles tendon surgery last April, but by no means is
Bryant rising from the ashes.
To say Bryant is a confident man would be an understatement. He's one of the
best ever to cross over a defender, penetrate the lane or leave an opponent in
angst after knocking down his classic fade-away jumper. Those memories were
put on pause when Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon and hobbled off the
court toward months of excessive rehabilitation.
Not a stranger to injuries throughout his career, Bryant, who sports a lengthy
scar on the lower part of his left leg as a reminder he's still human, is
nearing a return to the sport he has dominated pretty much his entire career.
He did not travel with the Los Angeles Lakers for Friday's matchup at what he
described as "lovely Sacramento" and could possibly join his teammates for
Sunday's home game versus the Toronto Raptors.
But it's still up in the air.
Bryant has been practicing with a Lakers team he deems as young, energetic,
athletic and competitive; adjectives that would define to a tee the one who
goes by the moniker Black Mamba. Bryant has been using his gifted ability to
push through rigorous workout sessions to improve range of motion, endurance,
and change of direction.
Bryant said this week his change of gear isn't quite there yet and needs to
break up scar tissue after being restricted and immobile for months following
the procedure. His main concern is actually not the Achilles, but the range of
motion in his ankle joint. Movement, manual therapy and mobilizations are some
of the strenuous techniques Bryant is using to get back into playing shape.
"My range of motion is a lot better where it's not after the first day or so,
or the last time I practiced, where my range of motion became restricted,"
Bryant said. "It became kind of locked up and I wasn't able to run, change
directions or sprint like I wanted to. I don't feel like I have any
limitations, really. The change of gear is not where I want it to be, but it's
easy to compensate and go out there and be effective."
Bryant, who recently signed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million and
introduced a new shoe by Nike, was asked about his explosiveness and he
quickly shot down that notion, saying he's not "jumping through the gym" and
doesn't need that to be a great player. Bryant does, however, believe he will
be limited in some capacity minutes-wise when he comes back.
When that happens Bryant will be wearing the Kobe Elite 9 shoe, which has nine
little red lines on the back of the high-top to represent his stitches.
"It's a symbol of the story we're trying to tell," Bryant told ESPN.com. "It's
a constant reminder of where I came from. From that night after I hurt myself
and I expressed my anger in my Facebook rant to the state I'm in now, I wanted
something I could draw inspiration from. Everyone doubts I can come back and
do it again and here I am."
Bryant was asked after a practice session if he misses the competition.
"I miss it a lot. It's fun getting out there and playing, and going up and
down, and challenging, winning and losing and bouncing back. That's fun
stuff," Bryant said.
The Lakers have been competitive to the tune of a 9-9 record and have won five
of their last seven games behind Pau Gasol, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Wesley
Johnson. If Bryant plays Sunday it will be the first of two straight at
Staples Center before Los Angeles hits the road to Oklahoma City, Charlotte,
Atlanta and Memphis.
Bryant has been impressed with the leadership role Gasol inherited during his
absence, but is instilling his insight as well.
"My job has always been to challenge and to push and to elevate kind of the
competitive spirit of the team," Bryant said. "I've always been kind of
lurking in the background, cracking the whip from a distance."
Before Bryant can crack the whip from close proximity, he has to make sure the
leg is ready to go. Being smart and knowing when to crank it up and tone it
down will be crucial over the next few days for Bryant, who wouldn't be
disappointed if he has to take a step back. Remember, the Lakers have invested
plenty of scratch and perhaps hampered their future with Bryant's new deal.
Bryant has been running and lifting weights outside of practice time to get
his legs underneath him.
"I test it. I push it really hard," Bryant said. "My sea legs aren't there
yet. The pull up jump shots and the fadeaways, my sea legs aren't quite there
yet to be able to do that."
Another concern for Bryant is the risk of injury to other parts of his body
after nursing one particular area for so long. But then again that's why the
Lakers have been bringing him along slowly.
Bryant, one of the NBA's darlings and top jersey seller, has the time to put
in more sessions before entering the spotlight again.
Whether it's this Sunday versus the Raptors or later next week, the Black
Mamba will soon be ready to commence his 18th season.
The Sports Network