When Kobe Bryant came back from his torn Achilles and joined the Los Angeles Lakers lineup on Dec. 8, the worry was that he'd be at risk for another injury. Six games in, he suffered another injury. In the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, Bryant hyperextended his left knee. He had to be subbed out shortly thereafter, but returned to action in the fourth quarter. That is kind of incredible and also probably wasn't for the best.
The severity of the injury -- a tibial plateau fracture -- was only discovered on Thursday, at which point the team announced he'd be out of the lineup for the next six weeks.
Will Carroll, sports medicine writer for Bleacher Report, says that this does not mean that Bryant was rushed back early:
Bryant was watched closely by the Lakers staff and the world, so there's no reason to believe that he was rushed. He's looked well and played more minutes than expected since coming back. Dr. Neal ElAttrache and the Lakers medical staff are too good and put too much work into Bryant's rehab to risk pushing him back. In fact, they were clearly holding Bryant back from his opening night goal to be sure he had fully recovered.
While it's possible there's some cascade effect, this is a trauma situation. Bryant was contacted, fell and happened to twist or hit his knee. There's little that I have seen that suggests that there was any issue with the Achilles tendon or that there was any change in his gait. This is something that the Lakers are monitoring closely, so it would surprise me if this was a major contributing factor.
The positive news is the bone will heal and Bryant won't require surgery, but that doesn't mean this injury is minor, according to CBS Sports' Ken Berger:
Though it's a good sign that the fracture in the "lateral tibial plateau" -- the outside of the shin bone where it connects to the knee -- there are significant risks. Often, ligament damage is involved with such a fracture, but Bryant dodged that risk; no ligament damage showed up on his MRI, a league source said. But according to a person with knowledge of Bryant's injury, the other risk is the development of "compartment syndrome," which sets in when blood and fluid are trapped within the tissue walls around the fracture, creating pressure.
Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report tweeted some related problems:
Tibial plateau Kobe fractured is risky area at top of shin and involving joint. Affects knee alignment, stability, motion. Arthritis risks.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 19, 2013
There aren't a lot of case studies for this exact injury in the NBA. Yao Ming missed over two months with a small non-displaced tibial plateau fracture in 2006-2007, but his 7'6 body is not exactly comparable to Bryant's. Jayson Williams had to have career-ending surgery to repair a displaced tibial plateau fracture, but that was much more severe and he also had a torn meniscus. Lorenzen Wright, like Bryant, had a lateral tibial plateau fracture in 2001 and missed about the same amount of time as Yao, via Jeff Stotts of RotoWire. There's no precedent for this happening to a 35-year-old star shooting guard.
"Lucky it wasn't a meniscus," Bryant told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, adding that "only an idiot" would doubt his resolve to return.
Given that Bryant just went through a lengthy rehab process on the left side of his body, there aren't a lot of great ways to spin this, though Bryant's longtime trainer, Tim Grover, pointed out that it gives his Achilles time to get stronger. The Lakers will have to be cautious and patient with the player they just signed to a two-year contract extension. The news is a bummer, but as Bryant's teammate Pau Gasol said on Thursday, what can you do?
Pau Gasol on Kobe's injury: "It’s very hard for me as a teammate, as his friend, to understand this happened to him. But what can you do?"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) December 19, 2013