After only playing in six games during the 2013-14 season following his Achilles tear in 2012-13, Bryant was forced to go under the knife again in 2014-15. The superstar shooting guard tore his right rotator cuff and had season-ending surgery in January 2015.
What’s incredible about his shoulder injury, though, is that Bryant played with the torn rotator cuff for several years before getting surgery.
Kobe Bryant played through rotator cuff injury for numerous years
Bryant told Ahmad Rashad in 2015 that he played through his rotator cuff injury for several seasons. His pain tolerance allowed him to perform despite the serious tear.
“I tore my rotator cuff. The funny thing about it is I’ve been playing with it, I guess, torn for a long time,” Bryant said. “I just never actually got an MRI on it because the strength, 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. So I’ve had this pain for a long time, and it’s just I’ve never actually gotten looked at because the strength was so good.”
Bryant finished the 2014-15 season with averages of 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists in 35 games. Many players would have gotten their shoulder checked out the minute they felt pain, but Bryant was built from the same cloth as Michael Jordan.
Kobe Bryant always wanted to put on a show for the fans
One of Jordan’s biggest motivations was playing well every single game so that if there were a fan at the stadium who was watching him play for the first time, they’d be treated to a special show. Bryant had the same mindset as the Chicago Bulls icon.
“I remember being a kid and going to games expecting to see the players play,” Bryant told Rashad. “It never occurred to me at the time that they might be tired, might be sore, might be sick. It never occurred to me. I just wanted to see them do what they do. I think about that. Doesn’t matter if I’m sick. Doesn’t matter if I have a sprained ankle. The kid that’s sitting in there might be the next me sitting up there watching and trying to get inspiration from that. I need to go out there and play.”
Bryant hated sitting out games, which is why he played in all 82 games in a season four times during his Hall of Fame career. The Black Mamba knew that fans at every Lakers game, home and away, were there to see him play and put on a show, and he didn’t want to disappoint them.
The 2015-16 season was Bryant’s final year in the NBA. Although he only averaged 17.6 points in the regular season, the five-time champion made sure he ended his career with a bang.
18-time All-Star scored 60 points in final game
Bryant’s final NBA game was on April 13, 2016, against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center. It’s safe to say that no basketball fan will ever forget what happened on that glorious night.
In 42 minutes, Bryant scored a whopping 60 points while shooting 22-of-50 from the field, 6-of-21 from beyond the arc, and 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. The Lakers outscored the Jazz 35-21 in the fourth quarter and came back to win, 101-96. Bryant had 23 points in the final period, outscoring Utah all by himself.
Bryant, who tragically died in 2020 in a devastating helicopter crash, never cheated the game. He always gave it his all, playing every game like it was his last. That’s why basketball fans fell in love with him.
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