Can Kobe Bryant be invincible again?

It's his brand, now. Not just in the NBA, but in the wider world. When he speaks to the homeless children he works with through his charity, he tells them that if they adopt his "Mamba mentality," no obstacle will ever be too high. When he fell to the ground that night in April, his Achilles completely ruptured and his spirit wounded, many wondered whether he could ever be that guy again. He wondered it, too.

"Do I have the consistent will to overcome this thing?" Bryant wrote in a gut-wrenching late-night Facebook post the night of the injury. "Maybe I should break out the rocking chair and reminisce on the career that was. Maybe this is how my book ends. Maybe Father Time has defeated me.

"Then again maybe not!"

It was the first signal that he intended to fight back from this injury with the same fire and passion he's done with every other injury, even though it was unlike any other injury he's ever had.

The next morning he had surgery, and began to heal.

In the eight months since that awful night, Bryant has kept his thoughts more private. He tweets and posts on Facebook only occasionally these days. The work sustains him. The plan focuses him. There's no time for idle conversations. While it may seem like he's disengaged from the wider world -- pulling back on social media and doing only a smattering of interviews this season -- the truth is he's gone quiet because he's acutely aware of what he represents to people, and doesn't want to disappoint anyone.

This comeback is important for him, but also for everyone who has come to see him as a symbol of noble resistance to the laws of nature. It's not just his career he's resurrecting, it's their faith in that symbol.

Perhaps it's a coincidence that Bryant drew inspiration from Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao for the design of his new Nike shoe, which launched this week.

Perhaps it's a window into his thoughts, and on the burdens he is bearing. No athlete in the world carries around more hopes and dreams than Pacquiao, on whose shoulders seem to rest an entire nation.

Bryant's pressures pale in profundity when compared to what Pacquiao walks around with every day. But there is certainly a comparison. It makes people feel better to know Bryant still flouts the idea that all of our runs fade someday. It makes people feel better to know Bryant still ferociously believes that.

It's hard to reconcile that guy with the one sitting on the couch with his foot in a cast in April. It's hard to see him as invincible again, just eight months after he was so vulnerable.

But does he really need to be?

The sheer randomness of the injury taught him he cannot control everything. And at first, that was a sobering thought.

But there's a freedom that comes once you let go of that idea. A tighter grip wears you out after a while. Eventually something snaps.

That's how Bryant ended up on that couch in April. It's also why he got up off it.

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