LOS ANGELES -- Standing on crutches in front of his locker with his sweaty game uniform on his back and tears in his eyes, Kobe Bryant confirmed the worst news to hit the Los Angeles Lakers in a season already full of heartbreaking disappointments.
Bryant said he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday, putting an end to his season no matter how far L.A. advances in the playoffs should it qualify.
"Just terrible," Bryant said. "It's a terrible feeling, man."
Bryant will undergo an MRI on Saturday, but the team is calling the injury a "probable" and "complete tear."
Bryant fell to the floor with 3:08 remaining in the fourth quarter while being guarded by the Warriors' Harrison Barnes. Bryant had played every minute of the game up to that point, scoring 32 points in the process -- including back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game with 3:45 remaining.
"I made a move that I make a million times and it just popped," said Bryant.
Bryant asked Barnes if he had kicked him in the leg. When Barnes said he hadn't, Bryant said he knew that a major injury had occurred.
"I was just hoping it wasn't what I knew it was," Bryant said. "Just trying to walk it off, hoping that the sensation would come back, but no such luck."
Following a timeout, Bryant went back into the game and hit both of his free throw attempts with the injury to end his night with 34 points, five rebounds and four assists before being subbed out for Metta World Peace and heading to the locker room.
"MRI, surgery and then recovery," Bryant replied when asked what his next step is. "I was really tired, man. Just tired in the locker room and dejected and thinking about this mountain to overcome. I mean, this is a long process and wasn't sure I could do it. Then your kids walk in and you're like, 'I need to set an example. Daddy is going to be fine.' I can do it. Work hard and just go from there."
Recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles can take anywhere from three months to a year. The Los Angeles Clippers' Chauncey Billups recently went through the process. Hall of Famer Charles Barkley's career came to an end because of it, as did the career of Bryant's longtime teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
"I've never really had to deal with something like this," said Bryant. "It's a new experience for me. Obviously, there's been a bunch of players that have had the same injury, so, all I can do is look at them and what they've done and who had more success coming back quicker and healthier and see what they did and see if I can improve upon it."
Bryant said the injury is "by far" the biggest disappointment of his career that has included scoring more than 30,000 points, being named an All-Star in 15 of his 17 seasons, five championships including two Finals MVP awards and a regular-season MVP, but he tried to remain optimistic.
"It's fueling me, it's fueling me," Bryant said. "I can feel it already. It's just players at this stage of their career, they pop Achilles and the pundits say they never come back the same. So I can hear it already and it's pissing me off right now thinking about it."
Tim Grover, Bryant's longtime fitness trainer, said Bryant was up for the challenge ahead.
"If he's in that frame of mind, it's going to get done," Grover said.
"This is going to be a mental battle of whether he wants to go through this or he doesn't want to go through this. To me this is all this is about. Forget the age thing, how many minutes he's played, if he gets in that single mind and says, 'I want to do this. I'm going to do this, then we've won the battle.' "
Grover, who was also Michael Jordan's longtime trainer, said he's doesn't believe Bryant's age or the amount of minutes he's logged recently had anything to do with Bryant's injury.
"I'd be shocked if the minutes had anything to do with it," he said. "An Achilles can happen stepping off a sidewalk.
"This is not Kobe's fault, because he pushed himself. This is not the coaches' fault. People get hurt. An Achilles is just one of those things that just happens. You can't blame anyone on this one."
Grover said it won't be clear how long Bryant's recovery timetable will be until doctors operate and survey the extent of the damage, but unless something unexpected happens, he believes this will just be a setback.
"I can't see him not wanting to do this and to come back as Kobe Bryant, the way we know Kobe Bryant," he said.
Bryant, who played an average of 45.7 minutes in his past seven games including Friday's leading up to the injury, was asked if all the playing time could have left him vulnerable.
"Who knows," Bryant said. "It was all necessary. It's just a freak situation, I guess."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni was asked about the decision to leave the 34-year-old Bryant in so long.
"It is like putting my head against a wall and he just wouldn't budge on (resting)," D'Antoni said. "And there is a part of me that didn't want him to budge because he's incredible. It is one of those things. If I had it all to do over again, then maybe (I would sit him). I will second-guess it and look at it, but he is an incredible competitor and it happened and we will go forward."
Bryant finishes the season with averages of 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
Bryant wrote an impassioned and lengthy post on his Facebook page early Saturday morning.
"All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I've done millions of times!" he wrote. "The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I'm supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??"
"I have NO CLUE," Bryant wrote before saying it felt good to vent. "Do I have the consistent will to... overcome this thing? Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me...Then again maybe not! It's 3:30am, my foot feels like dead weight, my head is spinning from the pain meds and I'm wide awake."
Bryant's body of work over his career made him about as old a 34-year-old as one can get. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bryant has played 54,755 total minutes in official pro competition since entering the NBA in the 1996-97 season. The playoffs and time with Team USA equate to roughly 3.2 additional "seasons" played. So in all, Bryant has actually played roughly 20.5 seasons' worth of in-game minutes.
Pau Gasol, the only teammate on the Lakers roster to have won two championships with Bryant, was shaken by the news.
"It's just a tough hit, tough blow for everyone and for the ones who love him and have a great respect for him, even more," Gasol said with tears in his eyes. "So it's a difficult time. I feel for him.
"It's hard for me to see him like that. He doesn't deserve it. ... I hate that it happened to him. He works so hard. He's the most dedicated guy that I ever met, and he had the courage and the strength to talk to (the media). I don't know if I could have done it. So, again that's very remarkable."
Bryant's injury was just another on a long list of them for the Lakers this season, from Steve Nash's leg, hip and hamstring to Gasol's tendinitis, torn plantar fascia and concussion to Steve Blake's groin and abdomen, World Peace's knee, Jordan Hill's hip and Dwight Howard's back and shoulder.
"It's just sad for Kobe. We've been faced with injuries all years. When somebody gets healthy, somebody else goes down. It's tough," said Howard. "I could just see it in his face. When you injure yourself to the point where you can't play, it hurts. It's a deep hurt."
The Lakers were able to hold on to beat the Warriors without Bryant and have a one-game lead over Utah with two games left to play for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday and finish off the regular season Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets.
"I'm going to be there still," said Bryant, who added he was "confident" that his team could fulfill his playoff guarantee without having him in uniform. "I can't be with them out there on the floor, but I can use my intellect to try to break down film and try to help them see things that they might not see and try to help as much as I can from the sideline and the film room and go from there."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne was used in this report.