|Kobe Bryant exults after winning Ring # 5, beating the Boston Celtics in 7 games.|
(photo credits: espn.com)
As a young rookie out of high school, Kobe Bean Bryant told everybody that he would want to retire at the age of 35. He was about half that age when he made that statement.
Kobe Bryant is 34 years today.
When Yahoo Sports' Graham Bensinger reminded him on that statement last July, Kobe's reply was,
"That's a long time to be playing. It'll be the last year of my contract. I don't know if I will play any longer than that. I don't know. It's just a possibility. It's not something I even give it much thought to, but it's a possibility. It could happen."
This statement was made after Kobe clocked 38.5 minutes (4 minutes more than previous year) a game in a very congested shortened season in the new system installed by Mike Brown. The Lakers could not find a way to contain his minutes (like how Spurs have been able to cut down Ginobili/Parker/Duncan trio's). Kobe, pushing 34 years, had the 2nd most points per game that season.
The Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the off-season. The Lakers' front office was trying its best to help Kobe get a 6th (and more?) ring, and get some hungry ring-hunters aboard. The Lakers starting line-up had atleast 4 future Hall-Of-Famers.
When the pre-season training began amidst injuries, Kobe made another statement on his retirement. Speaking to CBS Sports, Kobe said,
"It's just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health. That's a lot of years. For a guard? That's a lot of years."
A week before that, he told the media that he wouldn't be in the league for long. And when he leaves, he wanted to hand the reins to Dwight Howard.
The Lakers start horribly, sack coach, recover, get a shock coach replacement, walk on one foot again, gain parity by New Year and plummet to an abyss to start 2013.
But, that is not because of Kobe, not the way he played the game at-least. He was in line for shooting leader for the season, had an insane December on the record books. At 34 years' age. Here's a comparison - Kobe was drafter with Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Derek Fisher among others. Allen Iverson walked into oblivion after a beautiful career in NBA. Ray Allen is a help-guy on Miami's bench. Steve Nash is looking for the eluding ring, and as Kobe's teammate, is looking at his best shot. NBA Players' Association president, Derek Fisher is now with Oklahoma City Thunder after a short stint with Dallas.
Kobe Bryant is a force. Every peer is a blur.
In early February, Kobe tells T. J. Simmers of L.A. Times (L.A. Times is an excellent source if you want to keep tabs on the Lakers), when asked about his insane production even at this age and usage,
"Realistically I have only one year left, so I'm trying to enjoy myself."
Lakers improved in February. Kobe Bryant changed his role late January. The Lakers, on the back of the distributor in Kobe, went to the All-Star Games being 4 games back of .500 record. 4 better than what they were after a 3-game road trip that ended at Memphis, bringing out the necessity for a team meeting, and some heart-to-heart.
Lakers have been rolling better since the All-Star Game. Kobe changed his role, and is now back to the Kobe we know. The monster on offense. He has been exploding for dunks every now and then. Even in clutch.
Kobe was on The Jimmy Kimmel Show recently, after he led the Lakers to win a game in New Orleans after being 25 points down, and he was again asked about his retirement. He gave a simple reply.
"It's going to be soon."A day after that interview, Kobe came up with another barrage of insane, inhuman shots and marked it with an exclamation point dunk that gave Lakers the win over the Raptors. He has scored 83 points (42, 41) in the last 2 games, 12 assists in each. First since Jerry West to do so over 2 games at LALA land. Jerry West got Kobe Bryant to the Lakers.
|Kobe dunks on the Hornets to seal the win for Lakers.|
(photo credits: NOLA.com)
34 years and a half years old. 27.8 points per game. Good for 3rd in the league, with 20 games to go.
That was about what Kobe had to say about his retirement plans. It has sent many people wondering why? Why soon? Why when you are in the best form of your life? Why when there can be more years of such productions?
Kobe Bryant is among the best in the league. And as inhuman as he seems on the court during the game (or 3 hours before the game in preparation or the day before the game in practice), he IS a human. The miles totaled by his legs are more than Michael Jordan had accumulated over his entire career.
Kobe had to deal with multiple injuries over his career. None threatening major off-loads, but has been curtailing him from being 100%. The most amazing thing about this is that in-spite of all these injuries, Kobe finds a way to fight through it all and go for the win. As recently as last week, Kobe hurt his right elbow in a game against the Thunder. He returned and played almost exclusively with his left hand and dropped 30 points (in vain). Not the first time.
His fingers are taped, his knees have been operated multiple times, his ankles are tired, his arms have seen bruises. Yet, he walks through all the pain like they are invisible. And he is 34 years old and in his 17th season. It is not like the injuries heal any sooner when you are that old.
Kobe has the mental toughness of a winner. That keeps him going mentally, never give up. But, that is not enough when you have to stay healthy and fit in the league that has now shifted its image from skills to speed. There. Right there is where Kobe has pulled himself apart from the rest of his peers.
Kobe Bryant has been sacrificing all the worldly pleasures to keep his body in shape, remain fit and fight like he is no older than the young guard he is defending. Recently, he told a So Cal reporter, Mark Medina,
"There's a certain commitment, a lot of sacrifice and attention to detail that goes into trying to play at a high level for a long, long time. To me, it is worth it."He has mentioned how he has cut down on sugar. He keeps that going in the off-season too. "I may eat a sugar cookie once in the summer", he would then admit. He trains harder just to keep his body in shape. He takes ice-baths after games to get his legs going. He sometimes does that before media appearances. I can't put a finger in a glass of ice and not scream in pain. What feels like pain to me, is relief to Kobe.
As much as we would like Kobe Bean Bryant to be in the league for as long as basketball heavens would let it happen, I feel it would be unfair to force him to put himself through this for more. Not that he would take it that way, Kobe loves to do anything to stay the best. But again, that is the point - he is stacking future miles and using them for a couple of more season so that he is as competitive as the new comers and not just a passenger player with a good past and old legs. Kobe has, is and will only be a winner, not a 2nd option.
MVP once, 2x Olympic Gold Medalist, 5 NBA rings, a Dunk Champion, multiple All-Star first team, multiple defensive team of the year appearance. Legend.
I want Kobe to earn back all that he missed because of these sacrifices. I want him to enjoy his life in So Cal. Maybe, in Hawaii. Or, in Philly. Or in Italy. Let his daughters spread his legend wherever they go. I want him to come to dunk contests as judge. I want him on more Turkish commercials. I want him to talk to Olympic players about his gold medal tales. I want him to enter the Staples Center in suits, occupy a seat by the court-side and listen to the crowd lose its mind. I want Vanessa to then kiss him on his cheek as they sit to watch the Lakers demolish their opponents. Oh, and yes, with that charming smile on his face, of course.
In his interview with Jimmy Kimmel, he admitted that he is putting all his eggs in this season and the next (contract expires next season). He admitted he will retire soon. He admitted he will never play for any other team.
When Kobe's era finishes, it is not an end. It is a celebration of a magnificent era. An era that eluded all logic, so much that it seemed right to appear illogical.
He ain't retiring from my heart. Let's enjoy the legend he is.