The writing had already been on the wall for months, but on Sunday, Kobe Bryant made it official.
Penning a poem on The Players’ Tribune, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar and international basketball icon announced that this will be his final NBA season.
“I can’t love you obsessively for much longer,” Bryant wrote in a piece directed at the sport. “This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
It has long been speculated that this would be it for the 37-year-old Bryant. Once lethal on the hardwood, the Black Mamba has lost his venom after missing 123 games over that last two years thanks to a series of injuries. One of the greatest players of all time, Bryant looks like a shell of himself this season, shooting 30.1 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from deep.
His efficiency rating is down to 9.5 – the league average is 15 – and his overall plus/minus mark is a ghastly -6.6. He is averaging 15.8 points per game, but the number is simply an inflated product of accumulation and forced shots by a man that is not ready to hang his kicks up for good quite yet.
This version of Bryant, one that leads spectators to grimace with every air-balled shot, is not the Bryant that people will remember though. Instead, people will look back on one of the most distinguished careers and complex characters the game has ever known as No. 24 limps to the finish line.
A five-time NBA champion, Bryant will go down as one of the fiercest competitors in sports history. He is a winner – there is no denying that – and with an MVP and the third slot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list also on his re-sume, there is no questioning his eventual Hall of Fame induction.
Off the court, the matter of Bryant’s likeability has always garnered mixed reactions from fans, players, coaches and media alike.
The same fuel that fired Bryant’s play did not always make him the most endearing teammate – ask Shaquille O’Neal. He never had a problem calling out a fellow Laker and the selfishness of his play – he’s averaged 19.6 shots a game for his career– has been a talking point for years, though sometimes unfairly. Never one to mince words, the media has embraced Bryant’s knack for being blunt and direct. Some fans love it, others hate it.
In 2003 Bryant was accused of rape by a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. He pleaded not guilty and the charges were eventually dropped, but the then-25-year-old confessed to cheating on his wife. The incident killed Bryant’s image in the public eye for years as his jersey sales and number of fans dropped.
These days though, with the closing months of a 20-year journey impending, the 17-time All-Star is mostly respected, if not admired. His jerseys have long been back atop the sales charts and his Nike shoes are a hot commodity as well. He is a sought-after endorser and will be long after he calls it quits. In Los Angeles he is beloved, All of that is because of his legendary career.
Despite any criticisms one may have or any off-the-court issues, Kobe Bryant has left his mark on the game of basketball. Love him or hate him, he will go down as one of the best this game has ever seen.
Gary Phillips is journalism major from Ramsey, N.J. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.