‘He Was Stoic’: Former Lakers Trainer Details How Kobe Bryant Reacted to His Achilles Injury

Published 04/22/2021, 1:21 AM EDT
January 13, 2009: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 lays on his back after being removed from a game the previous night for back spasms during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Los Angeles defeated Dallas 100-95 (Photo by Albert Pena/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)


Kobe Bryant had fewer qualities of a regular human being and more resemblance to the supreme power of god. He had the mindset of a spartan who would reject pain for fighting bravely on the battlefield. It was as if the Lakers were a kingdom, and he was that fearless king who would lead his troop right from the front. 

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The Black Mamba had made a deal with his 13-YO self that he wanted to become the greatest basketball player in the world. Now, losses, injuries, controversies, there was absolutely nothing that could deter him from his path. A story in the words of his athletic trainer revealed the same side of his character.

When Kobe Bryant injured himself and downplayed the injury

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant during the WC Semis against the Spurs during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at SBC Center. (Photo by: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

It was April 13, 2013, the day the Lakers played against the Warriors and perhaps changed Kobe’s life forever. The Lakers were very close to missing their playoff berth when they had gone through a redemption. They had won 8/9 games to make a strong case to rejoin the Top 8. Obviously, Kobe Bryant was desperate to push his team to the postseason. That’s when he tore the Achilles tendon in his left foot with 3:08 to go in regulation. 

In a recent interview, the Lakers’ athletic trainer, legendary Gary Vitti, detailed all that he witnessed. The  64-YO expressed, “The telltale sign of Achilles tendon rupture is, I thought somebody kicked in the back of my leg and then I looked back, there was nobody. If an athlete tells you that, you can pretty much go to the bank… Now, this is the Kobe Bryant, this is the Mamba. This is the experience that an athletic trainer, other than the one that’s working with the Mamba doesn’t get. He says to me, ‘Yeah I kinda thought that, so I try to reach back there and try to pull it down’. I don’t know if any athletic trainer has ever had a response like that from any other athlete… I said, well it doesn’t really work that way, let’s go back and check it out.”

Kobe, being the owner of Mamba mentality, rejected the idea of leaving the court. Instead, he took Mr. Gary’s permission to go for the two free throws and then call it a day. A stunned Gary tweaked his plan and allowed the phenom to fulfill that painful wish of his.

What fueled the Lakers legend to pull that unimaginable stunt?

Kobe’s mental abilities had supernatural powers where he used to build his own fictional narratives to motivate himself. So the 5-time champion had his own reason behind walking on his injured foot even under excruciating pain just to take two free throws.

He believed that just as an injured person will anyhow run, jump, and climb to save his family from a house fire, a player can play if his life depends on a shot. That’s exactly what he did, and that helped the Lakers see the face of the playoffs for the last time before his retirement.

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Mr. Gary later told the second part of the tale that proved the same mental strength. He exclaimed, “We went into the training room, he was stoic. He lost his mind, and that’s when all the emotions came out that his season is over, maybe in his mind, his career. Not too late, Vanessa and children came to my office… I went into the training room and said, ‘Kobe, Vanessa, and the girls are here.’ [Giffy] Like that, he turned off all of his emotion coz he don’t want his wife and his daughters to see him this way.” 

Just imagine, a man in an insane level of pain, handling everything with a poker face as if to say nothing at all happened. That’s Kobe for you, the god of inspiration.

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Read AlsoNBA Analysts Draw Comparison Between Kobe Bryant’s 2006 Season with Steph Curry’s Current Season

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Sourabh Singh

1112 articles

Sourabh Singh is an NBA sports analyst for EssentiallySports, who has been working with the site since May 2020. Prior to this, he functioned as Managing Editor at WittyFeed, followed by a stint at Decathlon. The Sports Management graduate leads an active lifestyle, veering to the mountains for off-trail adventures.

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