It’s amazing Kobe Bryant was still playing in the NBA.
Let’s start there. There have 2,930 players in the league’s history who are now old enough to have had an age-36 season, defined by a player’s age on Feb. 1. Of those, just 185 – 6.3 percent – were still playing in the NBA for their age-36 season.
A 36-year-old Kobe is one of the 6.3 percent, and that’s absolutely a credit to his resiliency. Don’t underestimate how improbable it was that he get even here.
Unfortunately, his prospects of continuing to play in the league look bleak.
Kobe injured his shoulder, and the Lakers reportedly believe he’s out for the season. Everyone will take the weekend to evaluate their options, but if the franchise right, Kobe’s career could be over.
Kobe has played just 41 games – 35 games this year, six last year – the last two seasons.
Just 12 players in NBA history have played so few combined games in their age-35 and age-36 seasons and continued their careers at all, only one of them playing more than 56 games afterward.
- Michael Jordan: 0 combined games at 35/36, 142 games afterward
- Mike James: 11 combined games at 35/36, 56 games afterward
- Thurl Bailey: 0 combined games at 35/36, 43 games afterward
- James Donaldson: 6 combined games at 35/36, 43 games afterward
- John Long: 0 combined games at 35/36, 32 games afterward
- Eric Piatkowski: 40 combined games at 35/36, 16 games afterward
- Earl Cureton: 2 combined games at 35/36, 9 games afterward
- Richie Guerin: 27 combined games at 35/36, 8 games afterward
- Bob Cousy: 0 combined games at 35/36, 7 games afterward
- Mike Novak: 0 combined games at 35/36, 5 games afterward
- Nat Hickey: 0 combined games at 35/36, 2 games afterward
- David Wingate: 27 combined games at 35/36, 1 games afterward
Best-case scenario for Kobe, this is just another chance for him to emulate Jordan. Of course, Jordan was resting comfortably in retirement at ages 35 and 36. Kobe was trying to play and exposing himself as someone who can’t stay healthy.
A more reasonable optimistic comparison is the next Mike on the list, Mike James. James was trying to hang on in the NBA as he aged and his physical skills diminished.
If Kobe’s season is over, he’ll be at a point where everyone in a similar situation was washed up.
Now, Kobe is falling from a higher point than most, so it’s possible he lands in a place he’s a viable NBA player. His incredible resolve will only help make that a reality.
But at a certain point, the facts overwhelm the Kobe-as-god narrative.
His career is likely over, and if it isn’t, there probably isn’t much of it left.