Timeline of Kobe Bryant’s Return from Devastating Achilles Injury

The date was April 12, 2013—game 80 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ regular season. Kobe Bryant had been logging brutal minutes throughout the spring and was doing it once again. He had played virtually the entire game, despite hyperextending his left knee early in the second half.

With three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, he made a seemingly innocent move, pushing off his left foot as he attempted to drive around the Golden State Warriors’ Harrison Barnes. He was fouled, felt a pop and thought someone had kicked him.

The superstar crumpled to the ground, grimacing and holding the back of his ankle.

Months later at a Nike summit, Bryant described trying to pull up a tendon that simply wasn’t there:

When I first did it, right there, I was trying to feel if the tendon is there or if it’s gone. I realized it wasn’t there. I was literally trying to pull the tendon up, so hopefully I could walk and kind of hobble through the last two and a half minutes and try to play.

Bryant did make it back to sink his free throws. And then hobbled to the locker room and his extended off-season. The Lakers went on to win the game 118-116. Afterward, Bryant was clearly emotional, propped up on crutches and referencing the locker room visit from wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia and Gianna:

I was really tired, man. Just tired in the locker room, upset and dejected and thinking about this… mountain, man, to overcome. I mean this is a long process. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But then your kids walked in and you’re like, I gotta to set an example. ‘Daddy’s going to be fine. I’m going to do it.’ I’m going to work hard and go from there.

With Bryant’s season over, the larger question became his continuing career. Here’s a roadmap to the long path back from...

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