Commentary

Kobe Bryant's knee is key

Thanks to his surgery in Germany, No. 24 is as healthy as ever for the playoffs

Updated: April 28, 2012, 1:00 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Shareef Abdur-Rahim was in a suit, standing on the baseline on Thursday night peering down across the court at Kobe Bryant, who was also in a suit, albeit a slightly more fashionable one.

The suit is Abdur-Rahim's uniform these days as assistant general manager for the Sacramento Kings. Bryant, of course, still reports to work in a purple and gold mesh uniform most of the time. His suit was just a temporary outfit as he took the game off to rest in advance of what he hopes will be another long playoff run for the Los Angeles Lakers.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant says he's as healthy going into the playoffs in awhile thanks to his repaired knee.

"I don't know how many guys you could probably identify as many years in, 16 years, and still be able to play at that high of a level," Abdur-Rahim said. "Honestly, I'm kind of jealous and mad at you know, whatever he's doing -- the trips to Germany, or whatever he's doing -- that he didn't put me in his luggage and take me with him. I'd probably be still playing."

Abdur-Rahim, 35, is two years older than Bryant but came into the league at the same time, selected with the No. 3 pick in the 1996 NBA draft -- 10 slots before Kobe -- by the (then) Vancouver Grizzlies.

He retired four years ago, unable to recover from two arthroscopic knee surgeries.

Bryant has captured two championships, two Finals MVPs, an Olympic gold medal and an All-Star Game MVP award since then, and he is looking to add to that collection.

Bryant's legs have already logged nearly 59,000 minutes (regular season and postseason combined) and he's had three operations on his right knee since 2003.

He had to have his right knee drained three times during the 2010 playoffs en route to the Lakers' epic Game 7 NBA Finals win over the Boston Celtics. Last season, Bryant's knee was still in such disrepair that he said the joint was "bone on bone," causing him to rarely practice with the team.

Then Germany happened.

By now we all know the story of how Bryant visited Dr. Peter Wehling in Düsseldorf, Germany during the offseason to undergo Regenokine treatment. Grantland's Jonah Lehrer recently described the therapy as "part of a larger category of treatments known as 'biologic medicine,' in which the patient's own tissues are extracted, carefully manipulated, and then reintroduced to the body."

The results were remarkable. Bryant averaged nearly five minutes more per game in 2011-12 than in '10-11 and was able to do so in a lockout-condensed schedule which didn't allow as much time for rest. He also averaged 27.9 points per game, the most he's scored since his 2007-08 MVP season.

Bryant told ESPN 710's "Max & Marcellus Show" this week that his knee feels "100 percent healthier" heading into the playoffs this year than it did a season ago, when Bryant scored fewer than 20 points in five out of the Lakers' 10 postseason games as they were swept out of the second round by Dallas.

The Lakers open up the playoffs Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, and not only is Bryant healthy, but he's rested, having sat out eight of the Lakers' last 10 games in part to recover from a left shin injury, in part just to freshen up.

That knee of his -- the one that's been freed up of any brace or protective gear this year save the occasional compression sleeve just to keep him warm when the L.A. Kings' ice below the court has Staples Center a little cold -- could be the one thing the Lakers' championship hopes hinge on this year.

"It's the difference," Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a brief sit-down interview after shootaround Thursday.

Not Mike Brown instead of Phil Jackson. Not Ramon Sessions instead of Derek Fisher. Not Josh McRoberts and Jordan Hill instead of Lamar Odom.

Bryant revisited the decision to travel across the globe last May and trust Dr. Wehling, the author of a book entitled "The End of Pain," to try to do just that for his knee.

"Various friends [had[ used [Dr. Wehling] for other things, but the same type of arthritic symptoms, and got great results," Bryant said about what led to his decision. "So I did some due diligence, [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti did some due diligence, and I decided to go take a look. I mean, it wasn't going to be anything that was going to hurt. It could only help. So I went ahead and did it and got incredible results, obviously."

The results were so encouraging that Bryant went from recommendee to the one handing out recommendations, telling New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez to undergo the same therapy on his troublesome right knee.

Despite the foreign nature of the procedure and the foreign travel the procedure required, Bryant was not overly apprehensive about giving it a try.

"No, because they did extensive research and extensive study on it," Bryant said.

Bryant then looked down at his Siri-enabled iPhone 4 in his lap.

"It's amazing to me to think that we as a society can completely and fully understand a cellphone talking back to us, but aren't receptive to a procedure, a noninvasive procedure, that helps arthritis," Bryant said. "It's pretty funny."

Funny to Bryant, because all the misunderstanding surrounding his knee surgery doesn't affect him negatively anywhere near as much as Wehling's procedure is affecting him positively. Maddening to Abdur-Rahim, because he won't get the chance to trade his suit back in for a jersey and shorts ever again to try to double-team Father Time along with Bryant.

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