Injury may halt Bryant's impressive run

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grimaces after being injured during the second half of the game Friday against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers won 118-116.Kobe Bryant suffered what the team called a probable torn Achilles tendon Friday night in the Los Angeles Lakers' 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Perhaps the wear and tear of 17 NBA seasons is catching up with the 34-year-old Bryant, who has played 3,013 minutes this season. He's the first player age 34 or older to play 3,000-plus minutes in an NBA season since both Michael Jordan and Gary Payton did so in 2002-03.

Kobe Bryant Most Mins PG By Month

Bryant's average of 38.6 minutes per game this season is only the eighth-highest of his career, but his minutes have escalated in April. He's averaging 45.2 minutes in six games this month; that's his most in any month of his career, minimum two games.

In his past seven games, Bryant has played 95 percent of the minutes, and he has played 47 minutes four times. Compare that to the first 71 games of the season, during which he never played 47 minutes and was on the court for only 80 percent of the possible minutes.

On top of his 17 NBA regular seasons, Bryant has played 8,638 minutes in 220 playoff games. Plus he played another 747 minutes in winning gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The playoff and Olympic minutes add up to more than three seasons worth of time, which means he has played the equivalent of more than 20 NBA regular seasons.

If Bryant did tear his Achilles, he can look across sports to other 30-something stars who returned to action. Dan Marino ruptured his right Achilles in 1993 at age 32, then made the Pro Bowl in both 1994 and 1995.

David Beckham, then 34, tore his left Achilles in March 2010 with AC Milan, and while he missed the World Cup, he came back to win two MLS Cups with the Los Angeles Galaxy and now plays for French club Paris Saint-Germain.

On the other hand, as this Basketball Prospectus article from last year details, several NBA players, including 32-year-old Isiah Thomas, never played again in the NBA following an Achilles tear.

Whether or not this is the end of Bryant's career, he has made his case to be included among the greatest basketball players ever. Earlier this season, he passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the NBA's career scoring list, and he's 675 points behind Jordan for third.

Kobe has won five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one regular-season MVP and two scoring titles. His 15 All-Star selections are tied for the second-most ever, and he has been named first-team All-NBA 10 times, one shy of Karl Malone's record of 11.