- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kobe Bryant might still be months away from being able to run and jump following Achilles surgery in April, but there is an ardent supporter in Bryant's corner who swears that he'll come all the way back and then some.
"Kobe's a tough competitor," O'Neal said on a conference call Wednesday to promote his involvement in Adam Sandler's new movie, "Grown Ups 2," which opens in theaters Friday. "He loves when everyone doubts him. Of course at (almost) 35, they're saying he's done, but Kobe will show the world that he can play at a high level until he's 40. I know with the rehab, he's probably only supposed to do it once a day. I know for a fact he's doing it twice, if not three times a day. He tells everybody he's coming back in December, but if he could, he would like to be ready at the start of the season. That's how much he's going to push this thing to try to get to 100 percent."
O'Neal's praise of Bryant carries even more weight when you consider that it was a torn Achilles that ended O'Neal's career in 2011, when he was a 39-year-old playing in his 19th season as a member of the Boston Celtics.
"It was a career-ending injury," O'Neal said. "There should have been one more year left on the deal, but I was like, 'Nah, I'm older.' I was always used to dominating and playing at a high level. When I was with the Celtics, it was more of like a reserve role and I really wasn't comfortable with that. I didn't want to be in anybody's way and I just wanted to give somebody else a chance -- like a young guy, if they wanted to sign anybody else."
Why didn't O'Neal persevere through the injury and try to give it one last try to extend his career, the way that Bryant is dubbing his comeback "The Last Chapter"?
"Basically, I was just tired," O'Neal said. "I didn’t want to do rehab. I didn't want to fight to come back and all that."
"I actually slightly tore it four weeks before that," O'Neal said. "(Celtics coach) Doc (Rivers) and (Celtics general manager) Danny Ainge were gracious enough to let me sit out a couple weeks and I came back. I was feeling good, and then when I was running it felt like I got shot in the back of my leg. Then when I tried to step down, I didn't feel nothing. Then, even then, I still didn't get surgery. I still didn't get it checked. I was like, 'Please just shoot it up, let me just try.' Then I came back two weeks later and I couldn't do it. That's probably when I went home after I retired; I knew it was time. I had to get surgery."
When O'Neal was finished looking back, he turned his sights to the murky future ahead for the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team.
"If everyone is healthy, everyone is playing at a high level, they'll make the playoffs," O'Neal said. "The question is, is (general manager) Mitch Kupchak going to round this thing out or is he going to do the Danny Ainge thing and just say, 'You know what? We'll just blow this thing up and prepare for the future.' That's the real big question."
Sandler was asked to ponder what life would be like in L.A. if the Lakers were ever to succumb to a full-on rebuild mode.
"I think as just as a show of mourning, if the team was looking like it was going to have a few years of bad news, maybe (L.A. residents) turn the heat off their pool and kind of show respect to the pain that the city's feeling," Sandler joked. "Then when they get some good teammates with Kobe again, you start heating it up, maybe 84 degrees, 87, so you don't have a shock to your body."