has returned to practice, but isn't yet ready to participate in games. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
The mythology of Kobe Bryant is one of superhuman quality -- a celebration of the drive that has allowed a man to surpass his mortal limits. He barely sleeps. He trains relentlessly. He fights through pain and demands perfection of both himself and others. It's easy to understand the mass appeal Bryant garners, given that he's projected as far more than a mere basketball player.
While the tear of Bryant's Achilles tendon back in April should have served as a harrowing reminder that his body will eventually fail him, the injury instead served to strengthen the fable. Through Bryant's own talking points and a carefully cultivated "warrior" image, many expected the face of the Lakers to return in record time to unprecedented success. Bryant has earned the benefit of the doubt in regard to his ability to rehabilitate quickly, but his age and the injury involved demand reasonable expectation.
I say this in the same breath that I offer the following, clarifying news from Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report, which demands a bit of tempering lest expectations run wild:
Bryant has full medical clearance, I was told Sunday by someone in a position to have such knowledge—meaning he can do anything and everything without restriction as the recovery from his ruptured left Achilles tendon nears its conclusion.
Lakers coaches and basketball operations staff are all content to wait for Bryant to decide in his own mind when he’s ready to resume one of the greatest careers in basketball history after one of the worst injuries that can befall any basketball player.
According to Ding, full clearance from team doctors was the only way that Bryant was allowed to participate in Lakers practice over the weekend. It need be noted, though, that Bryant only participated in what Ding calls "a very limited capacity," with no full-speed drills and no defensive coverage involved whatsoever. Bryant is set to further test his ankle at Lakers practice on Tuesday, though even that will come with very necessary caution and caveats. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA:
"You're dealing with, 'Is he sore today? Is there a setback tomorrow? How [hard] can he go?'" [Mike] D'Antoni said after shootaround in advance of the Lakers' game against the Detroit Pistons. "That's the first step and there's a lot of steps to be taken. So, I just think we need to be cautious. We best just be cool and chill out a little bit."
...The Lakers' schedule breaks favorably this week with a rare four-day stretch without a game from Monday through Thursday, but D'Antoni said it would be "premature" to start considering a possible return by Bryant against the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
In this regard, medical clearance could be very easily misconstrued. At this point, the only thing Bryant is really free to do is test his limits. He's ready to push in his training to see how his ankle responds, to try different kinds of activities to see if any pain results, and to attempt to widen the range of motion of an inevitably stiff joint. Being cleared is a world apart from being ready to play NBA basketball, particularly up to the standard that Bryant demands. Give it time; medical clearance can only be seen as good news, though it's still only a further step in a longer process.