— -- Many years ago, when Kobe Bryant's games were filled with explosive attacking moves and windmill dunks, the work he put into stretching, ice baths, massages and the like between games was "zero," in his estimation.
Now that he is 37, with an injury history in nearly every major joint, plus a staggering 56,000-plus total NBA minutes on his resume, things could hardly be more different.
"The kid has got a lot of miles on him," says Los Angeles Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti, in his 32nd season with the team. "And they're hard miles. They're hard miles. If you've ever been to Maui, the Road to Hana? It's a rough road, man. It's beautiful when you get there, but it's a rough road."
Bryant's days are stuffed with an ever-evolving and carefully curated series of treatments designed to minimize injury and maximize performance, including submerging himself in icy water and lying on tables while an array of experts go to work. There is also physical therapy, which often involves digging at his legs with a $3,500 device resembling a small jackhammer.
The Lakers employ a large staff of physical therapists, trainers and massage therapists, some of whom say their main focus is Bryant. But Bryant consumes so much time and refined expertise, at all hours, that he has long supplemented with outside experts, including a neuromuscular therapist, two chiropractors (one in Orange County, where he lives, and another in Los Angeles), an active-release therapist from Oceanside in San Diego County, several "stretch professionals" and a personal strength-and-conditioning trainer.
If Bryant is to complete his 20th (and final) season (or to dunk again on Christmas, something he has done just twice this season), it's because all of those professionals have done their jobs well, teasing explosive potential from Bryant's aging body.
"There's rooms that he goes to and people are there and things happen," Tim DiFrancesco, the Lakers' head strength and conditioning coach for the past five seasons, says with a laugh. "So much is done behind the scenes that are behind the scenes."