Hypocrisy and the return of Kobe

Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France medals and given a lifetime ban for doping. Alex Rodriguez is in the middle of fighting a 211 game suspension for performance enchancing drugs. How could they, right? Well, the millions of dollars and the accolades they received make such actions pretty self explanatory. However, what always irks me about these cases is the appearance of shock or betrayal. Case in point is the conversation surrounding Kobe Bryant's pending return from a torn achilles tendon.

I will grudgingly say that Bryant is one of the best to ever play in the NBA. However, he's not immune to the same humanity that keeps players from playing forever: Kobe will be thirty-five next season. He's been in the NBA since he was an eighteen year old! And in fact, until his suprisingly good bounceback season last year, Kobe's performance looked to be following the trend of many other greats. Namely, players in their 30s tend to degrade quickly. Other great Lakers like Shaq and Kareem fell victim to the same problem.

Then Kobe went to Germany. After that he seemed like a new player! At least until he tore his achilles. He returned to Germany for more surgery, and now many are hoping he can return and salvage the Lakers. But both Kobe's performance last season and his quick recovery should be raising eyebrows. A study of NBA players returning from ruptured achilles was pretty damning. Basically, most players saw a big hit in playing time and performance. Thirty-nine percent of the players never returned to play! In fact, another all-time and overrated guard -- Isiah Thomas -- was forced to retire after a similar injury.

Anyone following Kobe's career should expect him to be pretty ineffective. The data on age and injury says Kobe should be done. But the hope is that he can return and be the same old Kobe. If this happens, are we supposed to believe that it was through sheer force of will? Now, the NBA could follow two routes on this one. Kobe's treatments may become the new "Tommy John Surgery" of the NBA, and help extend the careers of many older players. Or, in a few years, Kobe may be testifying that he didn't cheat or didn't know what his doctor was giving him.

Whether or not Kobe's procedures are legal, the takeaway from this situation is that the default stance from fans is "we don't want to know about it; just get back on the court!". Fans love a good comeback story and love it when their favourite stars seem to defy the aging process. They love those things so much that they are happy to suspend their disbelief when something seems "too good to be true".

We don't yet know how the future will view Kobe's trips to Germany, but it will be hard to believe anyone who says they're shocked if it comes up again.