This weekend played host to one of the most anticipated media moments of the year, and it damn well wasn’t the Grammy nominations. After seven and a half months of rehabilitation, Kobe Bryant got off his Achilles tendon injury and rejoined his teammates on the court on Sunday. Regardless of where you stand on Kobe’s revamped $48.5-million deal that will see him playing his entire career with the Lakers, the guy more than deserves a legend’s welcome for that speedy recovery. Here are some of the ways he was honoured his first night back on the court.
How Nike welcomed him back
There’s going through a rigorous recovery, and then there’s being welcomed back in the mellifluous tones of rapper Ice Cube’s voice. Nike chronicled one of the most anticipated moments in NBA history by pulling together this surprise TV spot rightfully hailing the player as a legend, and one that doesn’t give up at that. It begins with “If he never got up, he’d still be called a hero” and lists other possible end-of-career outcomes, none of which would mar his reputation as one of the best players in history. However, Kobe will always be Kobe, and that means that he will always keep relentlessly playing on. It’s inspiring stuff.
How the NBA welcomed him back
In this tearjerker, Bryant’s hair gets shorter and shorter as he lines himself up for a free throw shot years in the making. The NBA’s video message works together historic clips of his free throw ritual, which hasn’t changed much since he was drafted in 1996, leading up to the present day. There’s the dribble, the quick throw into the air, the shirt wipe and the lick. The sharp exhale, the shot and the release. “We know you, Kobe,” it seems to say. “Here’s to another two years.”
How Kobe welcomed himself back
Of course, Kobe is not one to be outdone, especially on the day of his own comeback. Bryant stepped dramatically onto the Staples Center court in Los Angeles, surrounded by a darkness punctuated with flash bulbs, to none other than the “Imperial March” from Star Wars—otherwise known as Darth Vader’s theme. Although The Force was not necessarily with him later on in the game at nine points and four assists, the energy was palpable as fans and teammate cheered him on. He did say in a pre-game interview that he had butterflies in his stomach, and now we do, too. Number 24 is back, baby.
How the Raptors welcomed Kobe back
Despite some good shooting and an apparent increase in willingness to pass the ball off to his teammates, Kobe’s return was marred by a 106-94 upset over the Lakers. Not every rebound is going to be perfect.