In an hour-long NBA TV interview special, Kobe Bryant revealed that he had played with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder for an extended period of time prior to opting for season-ending surgery.
"The funny thing about it is I've been playing with it, I guess, torn for a long time," Bryant laughed. "I just never actually got an MRI on it. Even now, the strength in my shoulder is good. It's fine. I can shoot, but I just keep tearing it more and more and more. I've had this pain for a long time. It's just I've never actually had it looked at because the strength was so good."
The nature of a torn rotator cuff injury is that the tear will not heal. However, over time, it will continue to deteriorate, and Bryant contended that he could have continued playing without surgery, but the shoulder would only get worse. Incredibly though, Bryant managed to keep playing basketball with an injured shoulder.
"I just did nine months!" Bryant's frustrations resulted in laughter with interviewer Ahmad Rashad. "I've got to do it again!"
Bryant had only recently missed all but six games of an 82-game season due to an Achilles Rupture suffered in April of 2013 and a fracture in his knee suffered in December of that same year. Similar to the torn Achilles and the knee fracture, Bryant chose to stay on the court with an injured shoulder longer than most anyone else would dare.
With the Achilles, Bryant went out and shot two free throws. With the fracture in his knee, Bryant played the fourth quarter and led his team to victory. With his shoulder injury, Bryant shot the ball left handed twice before Lakers coach Byron Scott pulled him. Not surprisingly, he made his first lefty shot. Also worth mentioning, Bryant and Scott both recall talking about his shoulder injury at least a month earlier.
"You control what you can control," Bryant told Rashad in a Zen-inspired state of calm. "I'm going to do what I always do--just break everything down to its smallest form, its smallest detail and go after it. Day by day. Just one day at a time."
Bryant admitted thinking about hanging up his basketball shoes, but those thoughts held their positions in part of the rehab process. When the Achilles ruptured, Bryant's experience with those thoughts hit its highest octaves. Since then, he understood and adhered to the process.
Bryant admitted that the Achilles injury changed him and drove him to focus on life after and outside of basketball.
"I need to really get on this and figure out what comes next because the end could be here a lot closer than you think," he recalled his thoughts.
With opportunities down every avenue and every street, why would Bryant undergo another painful process of injury rehabilitation rather than enter the professional world armed with connections, assets and name recognition? After all, a 36-year-old with his power in the business world and his natural love of cold calling famous figures translates to an 17-year-old basketball phenomenon jumping from high school to the professional ranks.
"Sense of purpose was there ever since I was a kid," Bryant explained. "I felt like I knew what god put me on this earth to do is to play the game of basketball. I just love it so much."
While enjoying the minor details of the game as he approaches the end of his basketball life, Bryant added, "When the end comes, I'm fine with that. I'm not afraid of change."
For Bryant, the end may be near enough to see, but it has not yet arrived. Bryant succeeding and accumulating greater wealth in his second career would be easy to envision, but the 19-year veteran made it clear that he still had season no. 20 left to play with the Lakers.