We know that Kobe Bryant is playing on knees that have about as much cartilage left as knee as Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has money left.
The difference is Kobe is smart about it, and is trying to figure out how to make what he has left last. Hence the trip to Germany this summer to get a new high-tech blood procedure on his knee that could help it heal and last.
Except this is Kobe, so he didn’t get the standard platelet-rich plasma. He pushed it about as far as he could, according to a story by ESPN.
According to a source familiar with Bryant’s treatment, his blood was treated to isolate growth factors that attack inflammation, and then cultured with chemicals to increase their potency before being injected into his arthritic right knee.
Wehling declined to confirm or deny that he treated Bryant. But in a rare interview about his work, he told ESPN The Magazine, “I am the only one to have found a way to cure arthritis….”
Although Wehling’s procedure shares some similarity to traditional platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, the physician says he’s achieved a nearly 90 percent success rate by genetically screening his patients to personalize their treatments. His website shows him with his arm around actor Nick Nolte.
If everything is going to go as good for Kobe as it has for Nolte….
This doctor worked on Tracy McGrady, who did seem to be moving better last season than he had previously. Wehling also worked on Pope John Paul II.
Will what worked for the pope work for Kobe? Who knows. But if Kobe gets added rest from a lockout — and doesn’t go off playing in Italy — it will be hard to say if the credit belongs to the fancy treatment or just more rest for an aging body.
Kobe Bryant’s knees are not good. He sat out practices most of last season to rest them (which might have helped cause his team’s poor execution under pressure in the playoffs). But he is getting close to bone-on-bone and there is only so much the doctors can do.
At the time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said he and Bryant had scoured the globe looking for treatments. There were not kidding, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has taken an unusual step to try to strengthen his ailing right knee, undergoing an innovative procedure in Germany about a month ago, according to four people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The treatment is a derivation of platelet-rich plasma therapy. PRP procedures are less invasive than many surgeries involving the knee and are viewed as either an emerging solution to knee problems or a financial gamble on unproven science.
PRP uses the players own blood, with the platelets are spun out of the blood then injected directly into the injured area. It is believed that the platelets then help with healing. Maybe. Nobody really knows. Even doctors who back the procedure say they don’t really know how well it works or if it does, they just think it does. (Those crazy people demand more science — I say charge ahead without knowing! That’s how I want to live.)
What may help Kobe more is the Lakers exit from he playoffs in May rather than mid-June. More time to rest the knee. More time off for his body. For the sake of all of us though, I hope David Stern and Billy Hunter don’t make it too long a break.
Kobe Bryant may only be 32 but he has put a lot of miles on his body.
He has played more minutes than Magic Johnson, more than Larry Bird, and he’s right there with Michael Jordan (which includes the Wizards years we all try to forget). That has taken its toll on knees that have seen multiple surgeries and even have had to be drained during playoff runs.
Last season for the Lakers it was an issue — Kobe rarely practiced with the team. That mean’s he was not there to push them, to demand the attention to detail that wins championships. Under the pressure of the playoffs you saw the results.
Longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, in a detailed interview with our man Mike Trudell at Lakers.com, that Kobe’s knees are not in great shape but they have some miles left on them.
“Structurally there are some issues that cannot be reversed, but can be dealt with. There are a couple of cards we have up our sleeve that we plan on playing, and he and I have been in daily communication about that.”
“We’d like to see him practice more, but we don’t want the time that he spends on the court being spent on frivolous things,” he said. “You gotta get him out there when he needs to be out there, and get him off the floor when he doesn’t. It’s more about quality time than quantity time.”
So, pretty much like every veteran. It’s something Mike Brown and staff need to be aware of next season.
A longer summer off should help Kobe, too.
Whenever the phrase “almost bone on bone” is used in discussion of a knee problem, fans get worried. Especially when it’s Kobe Bryant using the words and Lakers fans see their dreams of a three-peat grinding away.
But when the Lakers were asked about it Friday night, the reaction was basically, “This is news?” Kobe’s knee has been at this point for more than a year so this is nothing new to them.
When Kobe was asked (via ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers) if Lakers fans should be worried, he went with the Bruce Willis action hero response.
“Do I look worried? Did we win last year? My knee last year was the size of a balloon and we still won. I’m not that concerned about it, we just have to be smart and pace ourselves…. It’s just listening to the body and I do a pretty good job of that. I just felt like now was the time to crank it up. (I) sacrifice a little swelling in the knee, but we needed to get the intensity back up.”
Phil Jackson said Kobe’s knee was just something that needed to be monitored and managed.
“He manages it very well. That’s important, that he’s got the ability to do that. It’s been an issue since last year. We monitored it all the way through the playoffs. Surprisingly, we came out on top and he was able to make adjustments. The operation in the summer helped. He’s come back in a way that I think is most appropriate. Limited practice time, and now that he’s stronger and he can adjust to a lot of what he has to deal with, and that helps the team out, too, have him on the floor with him.”
So Kobe’s knee is not a problem. At least until the Lakers lose three in a row again.
It is hard to judge just how much Kobe Bryant is hurting.
It’s because he doesn’t give in to his body, he just keeps pushing through the pain. He keeps playing, keeps pressing forward and pushing his team with a Terminator like will. He can be slowed by pain, he may miss shots with a broken finger, but he does not stop. Ever.
But Kobe’s right knee — the one he had surgery on this past summer for a third time in his 15 seasons — is bad and that is why he has been sitting out team practices this year, he told Peter Vecsey of the New York Post.
“Because I have very little cartilage under my right knee cap, it’s almost bone on bone…
“You know how competitive and combative I am on the court,” he said. “There’s nothing I like better than to practice. In fact, I like practice more than the games, because I get to go at my teammates hard. That’s when you find out what they’re made of, how much you can push some to get the most out of ’em, and how you have to back off others so you don’t lose ’em…
“So, in order to protect my knee and avoid a situation like last year (where he had to have his knee drained of fluid during the playoffs), we decided before the season to sacrifice the team’s intensity by minimizing wear and tear as much as possible.”
After the ugly string of Lakers games around Christmas, Kobe scrapped that plan and has come back to practice to pick up the intensity. He also has picked up the intensity of therapy on his knee so he can get through all this.
We’ve seen what bone-on-bone knee pain has done to Brandon Roy. It should make Lakers fans — and just fans of basketball — take a step back and really appreciate what Bryant does on the court right now. Because at some point soon he will not be able to push past the knee pain any more, the elevation won’t be quite the same on the jump shot, the explosion heading to the rim will be missing.
Kobe will adjust and still be effective. He already has started to, moving more into the post for his offense. But that will be a slightly different Kobe. We should appreciate the one we have now.