Earlier in the offseason, we fretted over the prospect of Kobe Bryant returning too soon and shouldering too heavy a burden as he recovered from his Achilles tear from last April. Bryant is no stranger to playing through significant pain, few NBA players in history have gutted through more, but a tear like this (especially at an age like Bryant’s) is a significant departure from the broken fingers and fluid-filled knees that Kobe has had to deal with in seasons past.
Second to Kobe, only one man knows Bryant’s body better. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti has been a Kobe confidante since his rookie season in 1996-97, and despite some misgivings over Bryant’s social media-related offseason choices, Vitti says Bryant is taking an exacting, intelligent approach to what will be a career-altering rehabilitation.
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Not only that, Vitti goes into detail over the last play of Bryant's 2012-13 season. One that saw Bryant and Vitti enter into what the trainer calls a "gentleman's agreement" to let the Kobester shoot two free throws immediately after tearing his Achilles in a game against the Golden State Warriors. From Mark Medina’s Inside the Lakers blog:
Vitti granted Bryant’s wish, however, to shoot his two free throws. In what he called a “gentleman’s agreement,” Vitti then alerted the officials and Golden State’s coaching staff the Lakers would then foul immediately so Bryant could leave the game.
All went according to script. Bryant swished both free throws on essentially one foot, walked off the court on his own and then added an extra layer to his many list of amazing plays.
“I think it’s his gutsiest moment,” said Vitti.
Considering that Bryant is the type of player who worked through playoff games after having his knee drained, and considering that he’s played with a broken finger, two set shot free throws ranking as Vitti’s choice for “gutsiest moment” is saying something. Then again, that’s coming from a trainer with the understanding of just how painful an Achilles tear can be.
A tear that left some worried that Bryant would attempt to return too quickly, taking on too much responsibility for a Lakers team that may not even make the playoffs. According to Vitti, Bryant is taking a sensible route:
“Don’t rush it,” Vitti advised.
He estimated Bryant remains a “few weeks away” before advancing to full-weight bearing running and then basketball-related activities. Vitti also said “there’s no projected date” on whether Bryant will play in the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers or in any of the team’s eight exhibition games through Oct. 25.
“I thought he was going to be worse with pushing, pushing, pushing,” Vitti said of Bryant. “But he’s been very, very smart about the entire process.”
Now, Vitti is a co-worker and Lakers employee, but also a friend. So he could be planting a brave face in the press. That said, the longtime Lakers trainer has never been afraid to speak candidly and openly to reporters on the record, pulling no punches along the way. Personally, if Gary Vitti says Kobe Bryant is going “smart,” then I’ll believe Kobe Bryant is going smart. Very, very smart, even. About the entire process.
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