When Dwyane Wade went to sleep on Friday night, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was locked in one of the most intense struggles of his career with the hope of simply making the playoffs.
When Wade awoke, he learned the heartbreaking news: that Bryant’s career is now in question after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Amid a drive to the basket, Bryant fell to the ground and grabbed his left heel with about four minutes remaining in the Lakers’ victory against Golden State.
Afterward, Bryant said he knew almost instantly what had happened. He had surgery Saturday with the hopes of returning next season.
On Saturday morning, an off day for the Heat, Wade listened to Bryant’s postgame interview — Bryant vowed Friday wouldn’t be his last game — and then sent the fallen superstar a thoughtful message on Twitter. Wade reiterated Bryant’s defiance in the face of a potential career-ending injury — “#mindovermatter,” tweeted Wade. — and then wished Bryant well.
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“Damn man I feel bad for @kobebryant,” LeBron James added on Twitter. “If there’s anybody and I mean anybody who can come back from that injury it would be him! Best wishes!”
It’s an injury that has ended the careers of prominent basketball players, including Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Initial recovery time for Bryant’s injury was estimated at six to nine months.
“I can’t walk,” Bryant said after Friday’s game. “I tried to maybe just put pressure on my heel, see if I could do it that way, but there was just nothing there.”
For the Lakers, it could be the end of an era. For the Heat, Bryant’s injury was a reminder of just how quickly things can change this time of year.
Wade returned to action on Friday night after missing six consecutive games with a sore right knee. For the Heat’s star shooting guard, who, for most of his career, has been the best at that position behind only Bryant, the rest was a luxury after the Heat clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed with nearly a month left in the regular season.
“I’m not 100 percent ready, but I’m getting there as the days go on,” Wade said. “The last couple days have been a step in the right direction and I get better every day, so it felt good just to be back on the court playing … But by the time the playoffs come, I’ll be ready for the first game and get better as we go on.”
Wade will not enter the playoffs at full health, but he likely would be in worse shape had he been forced to play heavy minutes in the final weeks of the season.
There’s no way of knowing definitively whether Bryant’s relentless playoff push contributed to his injury, but in a seven-game span from March 30 to Friday, he played all but about 17 minutes. Wade logged less than 35 minutes during that stretch.
More than anything, Wade played Friday to increase his stamina. After resting for two weeks, he experienced early fatigue but found his wind as the game progressed.
“The first quarter. … I felt like they cut all the air off in Miami,” Wade said. “But after that I started feeling a little better. It was good to get out there and get in the groove and try to see how my knee feels, etc.”
Wade finished with 11 points and said after the game that soreness in his knee peaked when he “came down wrong” on his leg in the fourth quarter. He received treatment Saturday and is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Bulls.
Like everyone around the NBA, Heat forward Udonis Haslem was saddened by the news of Bryant’s injury, but was hopeful that Bryant could make a full recovery. Haslem, who is 32 years old, missed most of the 2010 season with a foot injury that required complicated surgery.
“He’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and I hope he can make a recovery and finish his career on a positive note and pick his time to go and not let an injury be the deciding factor,” Haslem said. “[Rehabilitation] just takes a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of prayer and as an athlete you always go through that thought process of are you ever going to be the same and when you do get back and you do get somewhat healthy, you got to get yourself back in the rhythm of playing the game of basketball.”