LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant will miss the remainder of the NBA season because of a knee injury, the team announced Wednesday.
The 35-year-old, who inspired the Lakers to five NBA titles from 2000 to 2010 and led the United States to capture Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, has been recovering from a left knee fracture suffered in December.
"Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I've received from the Lakers and the fans and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp," Bryant said.
After Bryant was examined Wednesday by team physician Steve Lombardo, the doctor decided that Bryant's injury has not healed, making it easy for the Lakers to let him rest until next season.
"With Kobe's injury still not healed, the amount of time he would need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we've simply run out of time for him to return," said trainer Gary Vitti.
"However, Kobe will have the entire off-season to heal, rehab and prepare and we look forward to him being 100 per cent for the start of next season." Bryant returned earlier this season from an Achilles tendon tear after 7 1/2 months of rehabilitation and played only six games before being sidelined in mid-December with the fractured left knee, which at first was thought would see him miss only six weeks.
Despite the injury, Bryant was voted into the NBA All-Star Game by fans, but he was unable to play in last month's elite showdown of top talent.
Bryant said he will be ready and 100 per cent when he finally returns.
"I don't want to say I'll be back at the top of my game, because everybody is going to think I'm crazy and an old player not letting go, that sort of thing," Bryant said. "But that's what it's going to be.
"You just continue to try to ramp up. Now I find myself really looking at a seven-month training programme.
"Just doing everything I can to get my body ready and be 100 per cent and I have seven months to do that. So, I feel pretty good about it." Former Laker star Shaquille O'Neal said Wednesday that family feuding between owners Jim and Jeanie Buss are holding the team back.
"They are in disarray," O'Neal said of the Lakers. "With him (Bryant) being out the rest of the season they will continue to be in disarray.
"The big question is are there going to be big-time free agents wanting to go to Los Angeles?
"If they don't get another big name guy, they are going to have the same problem."