One of the last guardians of the NBA’s fading generation of old superstars, Kobe Bryant, may be seeing the end of his road a little sooner than expected.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced Thursday that their 36-year-old legend has a torn rotator cuff. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Ramona Shelburne say that many within the organization fear that Kobe will need season-ending surgery. If that’s the case, Bryant will have played 35 games in a season in which he’s being paid $24 million to lead a 12-31 Lakers squad into the draft lottery.
Things aren’t ending as well as they started for Bryant. The Lakers traded for Bryant after the Charlotte Hornets drafted him, and then for a decade and a half he played almost exclusively in important games, on important teams. He was always near his sport’s competitive zenith. But now, the Black Mamba is more of a mascot than a feared competitor, yukking it up with LeBron on the sideline as L.A. loses and the next wave of top ballers takes things over permanently.
The Lakers are stuck in a strange purgatory until Kobe’s fate is known for good. As long as he’s around, it’s hard to see a new era starting. The franchise will likely proceed as a sort of traveling nostalgia act until they gut the roster and adopt a fresh direction.
Some have speculated that this is happening — that general manager Mitch Kupchak has allowed the team to go on in their current fashion because it’s leading them right where they need to be: atop the NBA Draft.
Whether or not this is the case, it’s certainly a strange time to be a Lakers fan. One of the proudest, most accomplished outfits in all of pro sporting is in a lull, and Bryant is the breathing symbol of their sitting on the fence between gold and whatever’s much worse than bronze.
— John Wilmes