Kobe Bryant projects confidence. He's done so throughout his NBA career, whether by intimidating opponents with his scoring potential or forcefully assuring his teammates that the final shot should come from his hand. He's asserted himself through those very means, and to date that confidence defines most every one of his on-court achievements; Bryant was self-assured enough to chase after lofty goals, and committed and talented enough to actually reach them.
All of which lends his words a certain authority, as one can easily identify the conviction with which they're laced. Bryant believes what he says, and in a league-mandated media availability on Wednesday, he reflected on his recent injury history in perfect Kobe clarity -- specifically to any possible relation between his torn Achilles tendon and more recent knee fracture. From Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk:
“Because it’s Christmas I will refrain from being a smart ass. I don’t think one [injury] had anything to do with the other. I mean, we evaluated it pretty extensively. The fact of the matter is, any of us can get hurt at any moment. The key for us as athletes is to block that fear out, and when you have injuries that fear is enhanced. You kind of put yourself under a microscope and you start thinking about it too much. It can happen to anybody. So you just have to tune that noise out and go out there and perform.”
So much of what Bryant says here is true. He's right to want to push aside fear and to resist the notion that his body could be turning against him. Both would be huge impediments to the confidence that's so crucial to his game, and thus even bigger roadblocks in his recovery from this second consecutive major injury. Yet it seems impossible that Bryant's Achilles injury would have nothing to do with this subsequent fracture, as many of those NBA players who have suffered it have also seen their bodies and their games change dramatically.
There will never be any causal lines drawn between Bryant's Achilles tendon and fractured knee, as the relationship isn't at all that simple. But to ignore that one may have had anything to with the other is to deny the basic, systemic quality of the human body. The leg is built as a column of shared burden, as the muscles, bones, and tendons within make up a load-bearing (and impact-withstanding) whole. To alter one critical component -- particularly in a way that requires a lengthy rehabilitation, along with a loss of bone and muscle mass -- would seem to alter the entire structure.
GALLERY: NBA Christmas Day jerseys Bryant's disagreement is understandable under the circumstances. For Bryant to say that the two injuries might be related could read to some as an admission of guilt -- an acknowledgement from Bryant that the recovery from one injury may have led to another. There's not enough evidence to make that kind of leap, and Bryant has no need to connect those dots for the most skeptical among us. But this makes for the second major injury to the lower half of Bryant's left leg in about eight months, the occasion of which at the very least gives pause.