Update 4:55 p.m.: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant underwent "successful" surgery to repair the left Achilles tendon he ruptured late in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s 118-116 victory over Golden State, according to NBA.com.
The procedure by Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. Stephen Lombardo of the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Group followed an MRI that confirmed the extent of the injury. Recovery time is expected to be a minimum of six to nine months.
The NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer, Bryant currently ranks third in the NBA in scoring this season, averaging 27.3 points, to go along with 5.6 rebounds, a team-high 6.0 assists, 1.36 steals and 38.6 minutes in 78 games this season.
Update 2 p.m.: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant underwent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon at 1 p.m. today—less than 16 hours after he was injured during last night's game at Staples Center vs. Golden State.
Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti estimated the recovery time at six to nine months.
Moments after Bryant hit the floor, Pau Gasol said his Laker teammate needed an answer to a question: Did Golden State's Blake Harrison kick him?
The answer would be telling, but so was the question. Bryant and Gasol knew the sensation an athlete feels when an Achilles tendon snaps is like getting kicked just above the heel.
So when Harrison said no, he hadn't kicked Bryant, the two Laker stars were nearly certain that Bryant's Achilles tendon was torn ... and that the Lakers' biggest star was done for this season - and maybe for half of next season, too.
The on-the-spot diagnosis by Bryant and Gasol was spot on: a torn Achilles tendon.
"It's gone," said Vitti. "It has to be sewn back together."
Can Kobe come back? Yes ... probably
Ten years ago, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino tore his Achilles tendon during a game. In the locker room afterward, Marino told an AP reporter: "It felt like I got kicked."
Marino's injury came when he was 32, playing in his 11th NFL season. He was back as Miami's starting quarterback 11 months later, played six more seasons, and threw 112 more touchdown passes.
But not all players return to action after tearing an Achilles tendon.
Three years ago, Duke University researchers writing in the medical journal LER (Lower Extremity Review)—and yes, there is such a publication—said 64 percent of NFL players who'd suffered Achilles tendon ruptures returned to action 11 months after their injury.
But the report's sample size was small—only 31 players—and the report noted that the NFL players who did return tended to play in fewer games after the injury than they did before.
The Duke researchers also made this observation, which gives a hint as to what's likely to happen to Bryant in the next few weeks:
For athletes wishing to return to pre-injury function as quickly as possible, surgical repair is the preferred option of choice. Some have used an accelerated protocol with range-of-motion exercises 72 hours after surgery, a posterior splint for two weeks, and subsequent ambulation in a hinged orthosis.
In layman's terms: After surgeons repair the Achilles tendon, Bryant will be up and on his feet within days to start a rehab program. He can find a real-life example of what's ahead with a visit to the Clippers locker room at Staples Center.
Need inspiration? Look to the Clippers' Chauncey Billups
Like Bryant, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups tore his Achilles tendon. It happened in Feb. 2012 while the veteran guard made a quick step from a standing start—the sort of basketball move a player makes dozens of times a game, and thousands of times in a career.
Like Bryant, Billups was hurt well into a long and productive NBA career. He was 35 when he got injured; Bryant is 34.
And like Bryant, Billups felt a "kick" when the tendon tore.
"When I first went down, it felt like someone kind of kicked me," Billups told the AP after the injury. "But when I tried to get back up and step on it, I didn't feel anything and I knew it was something I had never felt before and I knew it was bad."
But it wasn't the end of his career.
Less than 10 months after he was injured and underwent surgery to repair the Achilles tendon, Billups was playing again for the Clippers. He's been sidelined for the last seven games, but that's the result of a groin injury and not the aftereffects of last year's torn Achilles tendon.
If Bryant matches Billups and returns in 10 months, that would put him back in the Lakers' lineup in February 2014.
If Kobe Bryant worries at all about a full return after Achilles tendon surgery and rehab, all his has to do is check out a video from the Lakers' game film library: Feb. 14, 2013. The Lakers lost to the Clippers that day - 125-101; a healthy Chauncey Billups, one year after his Achilles tendon injury, scored 21 points.