LOS ANGELES — As the L.A. Lakers organization reels in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s catastrophic injury, fans and critics alike have transitioned from basketball to the blame game. Some argue that Bryant’s injury – a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered at the end of a critical win against the Warriors – is the result of natural wear and tear and could happen to anyone, while others are placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, who they say acted irresponsibly in allowing his star player to be 34 years old.
Kobe has been averaging 38.6 minutes of play per game this season, and 45.2 minutes in April as the Lakers have fought for the playoffs, making him fourth in total minutes in the NBA. More revealing, he has been 34 years of age the entire time.
“Kobe was never 34 years old when Phil Jackson was coaching, that’s all I have to say,” said Chris Rodriguez, a lifetime Lakers fan and L.A. native, echoing a sentiment felt by many who miss their longtime Zen coach and haven’t truly welcomed D’Antoni.
Formerly the coach of the New York Knicks, D’Antoni has also presided over injuries to Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. He had both of those players in for long minutes too, and, moreover, allowed both to continue aging under his watch. In fact, groundbreaking new analysis shows that nearly every player D’Antoni has coached got older while playing for him.
“With increased age comes increased potential for injury,” said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed surgery on Bryant’s completely ruptured Achilles this week. “The injury was part bad luck, part overuse and partly the wear and tear that comes with age. I’m not blaming Mr. D’Antoni for heightening the risk, but… there is a correlation.”
Kobe, for his part, has alternately blamed God, himself, the cosmos, Zeus, his ancestors, Dwight Howard’s ancestors and himself in impassioned social media rants. The superstar has vowed to work his way back to lead the Lakers again, and expresses a realistic optimism about his recovery.
Kobe’s recovery is estimated to take six to nine months. Despite the efforts of surgeons and the Lakers coaching staff, he will likely be 35 years old by the time he can return to the game.