Bryant Opts to Fix Knee

Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery in his right knee Saturday and could sit out part of training camp in October because of a recovery time of up to 12 weeks.

Bryant, 27, will be out at least eight weeks after undergoing a procedure to clean out scar tissue and loose cartilage in the same knee that has given him problems. The surgery began at 9 a.m. at an undisclosed Southern California hospital and lasted a little over an hour.

“He misses maybe the start of training camp, but as you’re aware, Kobe is probably in the best condition of anybody in the league, which shouldn’t set him back,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “Nobody in the league works harder than Kobe. He’ll be back at 100%.”

The knee was one of many physical issues that nagged Bryant last season, and he played with an athletic sleeve over it at times to try to control swelling. The soreness was an on-and-off condition and lingered after the Lakers were eliminated by Phoenix on May 6 in the first round of the playoffs.


After the knee failed to heal with time, Bryant elected for surgery.

“It’s our understanding that it’s pretty minor, typical arthroscopic surgery to clean up some scar tissue,” Black said.

The Lakers begin training camp on or around Oct. 1, probably at the team training facility in El Segundo.

Bryant had arthroscopic surgery in the same knee in July 2003 to relieve pain caused by persistent swelling during the 2002-03 season. For that procedure, Bryant left Los Angeles on a private jet, with Lakers management and medical personnel unaware that he was traveling to Vail, Colo., to have surgery.


Bryant’s high-contact, attacking style makes him one of the NBA’s most entertaining players but also puts him at greater risk for injury.

He has played all 82 regular-season games only once in his 10-year career. He would have played all 82 last season if not for his two-game suspension for committing a flagrant foul on Memphis guard Mike Miller in December.

Gary Brazina, an orthopedic surgeon at the Marina del Rey campus of the Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center, said NBA players are susceptible to injuries that require this type of surgery.

“In people who jump, plant and cut, we see an injury that is softening or fissuring of the articular [joint] cartilage,” said Brazina, who did not perform Bryant’s surgery and had not viewed any of his pre-surgery files. “Frequently what they will do is ‘debris’ that area -- clean it out, smooth it off.”


Bryant, who led the league in scoring with 35.4 points a game, will not play for Team USA at the FIBA World Championship tournament Aug. 19-Sept. 3 in Japan, although he plans to attend the team’s training camp that starts Wednesday in Las Vegas. He also plans to travel with Team USA for exhibitions in China and South Korea.

The loss of Bryant is the latest to befall a shrinking Team USA roster.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom will not be at the team’s training camp because of the death of his infant son, Jayden, last month in New York. Boston forward Paul Pierce and Orlando guard J.J. Redick have dropped out because of injuries.

Team USA now has 20 players on its roster, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Gilbert Arenas.


“We trust that Kobe will have a total and speedy recovery, and we were pleased that he expressed a willingness to remain as involved with our team as possible through this process,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said in a statement. “Kobe being with the team will add to our team chemistry and his presence will help provide valuable off-court leadership.”

The U.S. has struggled in international play in recent years, taking a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics and finishing sixth at the world championships in 2002.

In addition to an aching knee, Bryant worked through a laundry list of injuries last season -- a balky ankle, tender wrist, sore hips and back spasms -- but said before the playoffs that he felt fine.

“I feel physically great, as great as you can feel this time of year,” he said in April, four days before the Lakers began their series against the Suns. “I don’t have any injuries. I feel great.”


Bryant generally recovers faster than expected, most notably toward the end of the 2003-04 season, when he was expected to be sidelined several weeks because of a sprained right shoulder but sat out only five games.

The injuries, however, have begun to pile up in recent years.

During the summer of 2003, he had the knee surgery in Colorado and shoulder surgery. He didn’t play in 17 games during the 2003-04 season mainly because of shoulder and finger injuries, and sat out 14 games in 2004-05 because of a severe ankle sprain.

Nobody in league history has played more games at age 27 than Bryant, who became a full-time starter for the Lakers in 1998-99, his third season in the league. Bryant, who turns 28 next month, has played in 707 regular-season games and 126 in the playoffs.


He has five years and $106.3 million left on his contract.