Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant, left, sits with West Team's Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA All Star basketball game Sunday. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
New Orleans — Saturday, newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver had his “State of the NBA” address.
Less than 24 hours later, Kobe Bryant had his “State of Kobe” meeting with the assembled media in the same room Silver spoke, an hour before Sunday’s All-Star Game.
Bryant, the longtime Lakers star who has missed most of the season because of injuries, finally seemed to acknowledge what other greats before him learned the hard way: Father Time never loses a battle.
“That’s the part of the challenge,” said Bryant, sometime before he was announced to the New Orleans crowd as a spectating All-Star because of a fractured left tibia.
“This is the sort of thing, ‘are my best days behind me’ sort of thing. And to have those conversations with yourself and not be intimidated by that and not succumbing to that is part of the challenge.”
Bryant furiously rehabbed from his torn Achilles he suffered in the waning games of last season. He initially said he wanted to be back for the season opener but missed the mark before returning to play six games in December — then suffered a setback.
“It’s really the biggest challenge is saying, well maybe this is the end,” Bryant said. “But then again, maybe it’s not. And it’s my responsibility to do all I can to make sure it’s not. So that’s really become the next challenge.”
As for his potential return, where he steadfastly stated earlier this season he wanted to play again before the end of the regular season, despite the Lakers being well out of playoff contention, he’s hopeful but not boastful.
“It’s coming slowly,” Bryant said. “I’m optimistic coming out of the break that I will have some improvements once I get back to LA and do a couple follow-ups and then go from there. But it’s been a slow process.”
The process — along with his basketball mortality, forced him to miss Sunday’s game, which would’ve been his 15th. He was selected in 2010 but missed it with injury, when he was a much younger 31-year old.
“It’s tough coming here, though, because normally when you come, the competitive juices are already flowing,” Bryant said. “Now it’s kind of looking at it from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to soak it in, which has its own fun element to it.”
Now he’s 35, which isn’t “basketball ancient” but the tread on his tires of 17 years NBA seasons makes his future harder to predict. With the Lakers in position to reload this summer, as they have cap space even with Bryant’s massive $24-plus million deal kicking in next season, he’s hopeful his last couple of years will be long and fruitful seasons.
“What we have ahead of ourselves seems to be right in the Lakers’ wheelhouse in terms of turning things around pretty quickly,” Bryant said. “We have summers like this, they have never really faltered, they normally made really sound and excellent decisions that put us right back into contention.”