In injury, the iconic careers of Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant parallel one more time
On their respective surfaces, both play for one of the marquee teams in their league and they have each won five rings since 1996, when Jeter was the AL Rookie of the Year and Kobe ended up as Second Team NBA All-Rookie. Both men were the unquestioned leaders of their teams during a late-1990s and early-2000s dynasty, playing for coaches who were revered as some of the best in their sports.
Both have been extremely durable -- Jeter has played 130 or more games in 16 of his first 17 full seasons, while Kobe has played 65 or more in every non-lockout shortened NBA season.
In terms of other awards, both men have more than a dozen All-Star nods, and both have reached the pinnacle of individual prowess in their leagues offensively and defensively. Kobe has won two scoring titles and been named to the All-Defensive Team nine times, and Jeter has five Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers and twice has led the Majors in hits.
Outside sports, both have become icons in the endorsement world, especially with Nike, and both are very involved in philanthropic endeavors -- Jeter with his Turn 2 Foundation, Kobe with his After School All-Stars ambassador role, among other things.
Now, however, as Jeter and Bryant are staring down the twilight of their careers, they have one more similarity neither wants to have on their own: a somewhat-catastrophic injury to their left leg that prematurely ended one season and will compromise part, if not all, of the next.
Off the bat, it must be noted that there is no indication whatsoever, nor should there be, that we've seen the last of Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant, or even the last of their elite level of performance. Players, even at their ages, can certainly come back from the injuries that they've suffered. But the moral is that even these two superstars, as durable and iconic as they have become and as superhuman as they have seemed, truly are mortal.
In Kobe's case, he spent the better part of the last six weeks trying to will the Lakers into the NBA Playoffs; they made it, but with the cost of him tearing his Achilles tendon, ending his season and possibly his career. Bryant will miss out on one more matchup with Tim Duncan, then at least part (if not all) of the 2013-14 season. Bryant has said in the past next year would likely be his last, and with the injury, he becomes a $30 million sitting duck on a Lakers payroll that will already force them to make some hard decisions this summer.
On the other hand, there is Jeter. He fought through ankle injuries late last season in an attempt to will his team to the 17th playoff berth of his career. But on Oct. 10, his ankle broke in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The Captain sat out the remainder of the playoffs and now, thanks to a new fracture in that same ankle, he will miss at least half (if not more) of a 2013 season that is, technically, the last guaranteed one on his current contract. Jeter does have a player option for 2014 that currently sits at $9.5 million if exercised, but the deal contains a $3 million buyout that he could, in theory, exercise in order to re-negotiate and attempt to help his team get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
For nearly two decades, fans of both the Yankees and Lakers have watched Jeter and Kobe transcend from promising rookies to team-defining icons to surefire Hall of Famers, quite possibly taking for granted that the two of them would always be there, always keeping their team in the hunt for the playoffs and another parade.
Now, as their careers have paralleled in almost every way, the two veteran warriors sit together again, this time on the sidelines nursing their first truly long-term injuries. Fret not, as it's almost certain that Derek Jeter will be back, and Kobe Bryant will, too; much like Mariano Rivera in 2012, the pair are simply too prideful to have their final moment be them getting helped out of a game and into an MRI or X-ray machine.
But will they ever be the same? Maybe so and maybe not; despite their stellar seasons leading up to injury, age (Jeter turns 39 in June, Kobe 35 in August) will have just as much of a say in that as injury.
Regardless, Kobe and Jeter will likely be appreciated much more (if that situation can even be fathomed) when they do return.
Even heroes are mortal, as Derek Sanderson Jeter and Kobe Bean Bryant have proven in the last few weeks, but in adversity comes the true test of the man.
A sports world without Jeter and Kobe is, unfortunately, coming soon, just not today -- and that may be the final similarity shared by two icons, at least until the day they officially become Hall of Famers.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES