Bryant seriously aggravated a lingering shoulder ache while dunking last week in New Orleans. The star guard and the Lakers decided Monday on surgery, which typically requires several months of rehabilitation.
"I feel like I just returned a 100 yard kickoff in the last two minutes of the Super Bowl to win it all only to have my run called back by a flag on the play," Bryant said in a statement released by The Players' Tribune.
The Lakers will announce a timetable for Bryant's recovery after surgery, but coach Byron Scott anticipates losing the third-leading scorer in NBA history for the rest of the year.
"Kobe is probably not going to play" again this season, Scott said.
"We all know how tough he is," Scott added after Monday's practice. "He's a trooper, so we pray for him that his return will be sooner rather than later."
The 36-year-old Bryant's torn rotator cuff is likely his third straight season-ending injury. He missed the 2013 playoffs with a torn Achilles tendon, and he played just six games last season before breaking a bone near his left knee. His famously resilient body has finally worn down from the accumulated grind of nearly two decades and several lengthy postseasons with the Lakers, including five NBA title runs.
After returning at nearly full strength in training camp, Bryant sat out eight games to rest in the past month and played on a strict minutes limit. He still dealt with assorted aches and setbacks before he injured his shoulder.
Bryant met with Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic on Monday, determining his injury's extent and deciding on surgery. He is averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games this season, but shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent in a wildly inconsistent season.
The Lakers reacted to the news with disappointment and respect for Bryant, who was selected to the All-Star Game for the 17th time last week.
"Kobe is a warrior," Lakers forward Carlos Boozer said. "He's strong, and he's going to attack rehab like he always has."
The Lakers also discouraged speculation that Bryant's career might be over. He is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year.
"I think he's done everything that you can possibly do in this league, and I think at times, we don't appreciate all the stuff that he's been able to accomplish," Scott said. "I don't think we appreciate how tough he is, all the injuries and other things that he's played with, to be able to come back the way that he's come back. I don't see Kobe as the type of guy that wants to leave his legacy on [these] terms. I think he wants to go out on his own terms. We'll just have to wait and see."
The Lakers (12-33) are in the midst of another aimless season, losing eight straight heading into Tuesday's visit from Washington. The 16-time NBA champion franchise is almost certain to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976.
The Lakers also owe a first-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns to complete their disastrous trade for Steve Nash, who played just 65 games in the past three years and never suited up this season. But Los Angeles will keep the pick this summer if it lands in the top five, providing ample incentive for fans to hope the Lakers' collapse is total.
Bryant wasn't at the Lakers' training complex Monday, and he didn't attend their loss to Houston on Sunday night. Scott plans to speak with Bryant throughout the week to see what he's thinking about his future, but he hopes Bryant isn't ready to quit.
"With the Achilles last year, everybody said he was done," Scott said. "He came back and I think the first month of the season, he proved to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank. I think he still has that hunger and that competitive nature to come out and prove it again. After the surgery, I'll talk to him and see how it is. We'll talk and we'll go from there."