It’s been more than five years since Kobe Bryant’s career truly ended.
On 13 April 2013 (Manila time), with three minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant ruptured his left Achilles tendon on a drive to the left towards the basket. His injury came at an unfortunate time for the Los Angeles Lakers, who were in the middle of a tumultuous season which saw three different head coaches at the helm, a difficult transition for new additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, and a chase for a spot at the playoffs, where they’ve been a few games out of the eighth seed for most of the 2012-13 campaign.
At the time, there were a lot of underlying factors that contributed to that injury late in the regular season; the Lakers had Mike Brown’s ineffective Princeton offense failing them to start the year, then they had to deal with a quick transition to Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense. Add a slow, stubborn, and unhealthy Howard and injuries to Nash to compound the problems, and you had one disastrous show.
Conscious about the repercussions of missing the playoffs with a supposedly star-studded lineup, the ever irrationally competitive Bryant then proceeded to take it upon himself to save the team’s season. After losing to the Bucks by 10 at Milwaukee, he logged an average of 45.5 minutes per game in the team’s next seven games – playing 319 out of the 338 possible minutes.
30 March 2013: Lakers @ Sacramento
Bryant played all but 23 seconds of the team’s 103-98 victory over the Kings. He scored 19 points on an inefficient 5-18 shooting, but he dished out 14 assists and was the team’s primary facilitator after Nash was helped off the court with a leg injury early in the first quarter.
Leading by just two, 100-98, with 24.8 seconds left, Kobe drew a foul on a midrange attempt and split his charities. He knocked down two more on his next trip after the Lakers got a stop on the other end of the floor.
He also passed Wilt Chamberlain in the all-time scoring list after a pull-up jumper with 7:55 to go in the second quarter.
02 April 2013: Lakers vs. Dallas
Despite having a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter, Kobe refused to take a breather. He sat for only 56 seconds and tallied his second triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Lakers handily beat the Mavs, 101-81. Bryant also added four steals and two blocks on a night where the team retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey.
05 April 2013: Lakers vs. Memphis
It took a Dwight Howard stop against Mike Conley at the rim for Los Angeles to pull off this 86-84 win. With injuries and shallow bench depth, D’Antoni had to resort to a seven-man rotation. Bryant played 42 minutes and wound up with 24 points, nine assists and five rebounds on 10-23 shooting from the field.
07 April 2013: Lakers vs. Clippers
A younger and deeper Clippers squad rolled past the weary Lakers, 109-95. It was evident that Kobe was gassed; he had 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, but his legs were flat and he only made six out of his 19 attempts on the floor in 47:20 minutes. The team shot a measly 7-24 from downtown and fell to ninth place after Utah won against the Warriors on that day.
09 April 2013: Lakers vs. New Orleans
Kobe brought down the hammer against the Hornets in this game. After a slow start, he poured 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers came out on top, 104-96. Bryant scored the team’s first 14 points in the payoff period and basically put the game away with 2:36 left after a steal on Eric Gordon led to him drawing a foul on an and-1 opportunity on the fast break. He played for 41 minutes.
10 April 2013: Lakers at Portland
Los Angeles had four games left, was barely holding on to the eighth seed and was playing their third game in four nights – but Bryant barely missed a beat. He played all 48 minutes and was all over the place, scoring 47 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing five assists, and adding four blocks and three steals on 14-27 shooting in the team’s 113-106 come-from-behind victory over the Blazers.
Bryant went toe-to-toe with Damian Lillard in the first quarter, as both guys both scored 17 points in the first quarter. Kobe went on to record 28 first-half points, while Lillard put up a then-career high 38 points.
The Lakers were down by two, 90-88, heading into the fourth period, but a strong 25-16 quarter enabled them to come away with the win and keep a half-game lead over the Jazz for the final playoff spot in the process.
13 April 2013: Lakers vs. Golden State
‘The Black Mamba’ was well on his way to playing every second of this game until the injury. He had 34 points, five rebounds and four assists on 9-21 shooting and had played 45 minutes. There were a couple of moments where he looked like he was about to physically break down; first, he went down clutching his left knee after getting flattened mid-air by Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes in the third quarter, then banged his knee against Ezeli’s on a baseline drive minutes later.
But he carried on. With the Lakers down 107-101 with 5:05 left in the fourth, Bryant drilled a three from the left arc to bring the team to within three. He then knocked down a trey from the top to tie the game at 107. Jarrett Jack scored on a drive to the hole in the ensuing possession before Kobe went down for good.
At that point, Kobe Bryant had played 1,239 regular season games and 45,390 minutes (36.6 minutes per game), and 220 playoff games and 17,281 minutes (39.3 minutes per game). During that torrid seven-game stretch, he averaged 28.9 points, 8.4 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and a block, and the Lakers went 6-1.
The team won their last two games without Kobe and booked the eighth seed after the Jazz lost one of their last couple. San Antonio, however, swept Los Angeles in the first round, but that hardly mattered; Kobe guaranteed that they’ll make the playoffs no matter what, and he delivered on his promise.