Kobe Bryant‘s NBA career path took a disappointing turn after suffering a torn Achilles tendon. The LA Lakers star guard managed to continue playing despite it completely altering his basketball future. However, Bryant‘s handling of the injury came with a subtle jab at former Boston Celtics great Paul Pierce.
Kobe Bryant tears his Achilles tendon against the Warriors
Kobe Bryant’s illustrious NBA career took a devastating turn south in his 17th season.
The 2012-13 campaign didn’t meet expectations after acquiring stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Throughout much of the year, LA floundered, floating around the .500 mark and nearly out of the playoff picture.
Bryant shifted his workload into high gear, which led to impressive play averaging 27.3 points on 46.3% shooting with 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds. However, it all came tumbling down on April 12 against the Golden State Warriors after tearing his Achilles tendon.
The star guard’s injury effectively ended his season and cut short any chance for the Lakers to compete for an NBA title. However, Bryant’s handling of the injury saw him send an indirect jab at another NBA star.
Kobe Bryant found the strength to send a subtle jab at Paul Pierce after tearing his Achilles
As crushing as Bryant‘s Achilles injury was, his handling of the situation in real-time still stands out.
The Lakers star further fueled his toughness reputation as he nailed a pair of free throws. He then left the court under his power, gingerly walking to the locker room without much help.
A year after Bryant’s retirement, longtime Lakers lead trainer Gary Vitti revealed to David Aldridge of The Athletic that the five-time NBA champion’s decision to walk off the floor was a shot at Paul Pierce.
“I told the officials what we were going to do,” Vitti recalled in 2017. “As soon as we fouled, I walked out on the court to get him. And I said, ‘You want a chair?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m walking off.’ And he walked all the way back to the training room on his own power.
“That was a message to Paul Pierce. ‘Cause you remember in the (2008) Finals, Pierce looked like he got shot by a sniper, rolling around, writhing in pain? They take him off on a chair and he comes back and plays and they beat us? That was Kobe’s [expletive] you to Paul Pierce.”
During Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce used a wheelchair to leave the floor after suffering an apparent knee injury. Several moments later, the former Celtics forward came jogging back to the court and continued to play.
Bryant’s decision to go that route in the moments after the Achilles injury showed he still held resentment toward Pierce’s incident. Although he never publicly voiced that, the Hall of Famer stated that the 2008 loss in the Finals stung the most, while the 2010 Finals win over the Celtics was his favorite.
Strengthened his illustrious NBA legacy
Although Bryant never truly recovered from the Achilles injury, it added to his iconic legacy.
He used it as motivation to continue his career for three more years before stepping away after 20 seasons. Bryant capped it off by putting together an incredible 60-point performance in his last game.
The 18-time All-Star didn’t end his career still competing for NBA titles, but his perseverance through the injury further cemented his place among the all-time greats.