Kobe Bryant felt his body falling apart, so he did something about it. Twice.
Bryant went to Germany on two occasions during the off-season, The Times has learned, undergoing innovative procedures on his ailing right knee and, in a previously unreported development, his chronically troublesome left ankle, according to people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Bryant aggravated his ankle while moving across the lane on defense in the Lakers’ first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets last season. It was a non-contact injury, his foot buckling under him without any contact. He left the arena that night on crutches but did not sit out any games.
He visited molecular orthopedist Peter Wehling about six weeks later in Duesseldorf to get treatment on an arthritic joint in his knee, as The Times first reported. After deeming it a success, Bryant went to see Wehling for his ankle around the time of a promotional appearance for Nike in Italy in October.
Bryant, 33, has noticed the difference, recently saying his physical improvement would be a “huge plus” for the Lakers.
“I feel a lot stronger and a lot quicker and able to get to the basket and free-throw line,” he said.
Anecdotal evidence was provided by others as well.
“He’s done some things in practice that have kind of wowed you as far as taking the ball to the basket strong and finishing with dunks in traffic,” new Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
Said teammate Pau Gasol: “He looks really aggressive. He’s eager to play.”
However, in the Lakers’ exhibition opener against the Clippers on Monday, Bryant sustained a torn ligament in his right wrist while trying to break a fall. He didn’t play in Wednesday’s game, but he took part in practice the last two days and planned to play in the season opener Sunday against the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.
Bryant underwent the knee and ankle procedures after taking a serious look at his age, body and enormous playing time in a career about to begin its 16th season. He has logged 40,163 minutes in the regular season and an additional 8,163 in the playoffs, the combined total putting him 16th in NBA history.
After this season, Bryant has two years and $58.3 million left on his contract.
Wehling’s procedure is marketed as Regenokine or Orthokine, and it appears from afar to be related to the more well-known platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
Wehling’s procedure differs because it targets interleukin, proteins or molecules that cause inflammatory responses. Blood is removed from the affected area of a patient and spun in a centrifuge. The antagonists of interleukin are removed to create a serum that is injected back into the targeted area.
The Lakers’ medical staff researched Wehling’s process and made the calculated decision with Bryant to undergo the initial procedure. Before going to Germany, Bryant had three knee surgeries since 2003, including one in July 2010 to remove unspecified loose bodies.
Bryant played all 92 of the Lakers’ games last season but averaged only 33.9 minutes, his lowest since his second season. He rarely practiced with the team and averaged 25.3 points a game, his fewest since 2003-04.
After the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, Bryant talked about “a wasted year of my life,” appearing angry and sorry that he didn’t catch Michael Jordan at six championship rings. He also spoke of the need to “train and get strong” during the off-season.
Bryant has been in a better mood since the team gathered again almost three weeks ago. He seemed to know something on the first day of training camp, smiling confidently when asked by a reporter how he felt.
“You’ll see,” he said.