Kobe Bryant says this is last season of epic career

Kobe Bryant says he will retire at end of season after 20 years in Lakers uniform and lifetime in basketball

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

Kobe Bryant, 37, has won five NBA crowns in a 20-year career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant says he still loves competition, but admits that his body can no longer handle the rigors of professional basketball as he announced Sunday that this will be his final NBA season.

"I had to come to terms with it," said Bryant, speaking after the Lakers 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles. "I had to accept the fact I didn't want to do this anymore."

The 37-year-old five-time champion will retire as one of the greatest clutch players in history, and after spending his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I have known for awhile. I am very solid with this decision," he said. "If I had a burning desire to play I would."

"I don't want to get too Zen like. But my mind always started drifting toward basketball and it doesn't do that all the time anymore. To me that is the first indicator that this game isn't something I can obsess over much longer."

Bryant, a member of two Olympic US gold medal squads, has been nagged by injuries in recent campaigns and has struggled to find his form this season, as the Lakers are off to a miserable 2-14 start.

Bryant said that despite the injuries, the never-ending rehabs and the habitual losing over the last few seasons, he is still enjoys getting out on the floor and going into battle.

'Beauty in adversity'

"There is no sadness in this," he said. "I had such great times."

"I find beauty in adversity and not being able to play at the highest level."

"I see beauty when I get up in the morning with pain because I know the hard work it took to get to this point."

Bryant has averaged 25.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists over 1,280 games.

This season, with the Lakers stripped of much of the supporting cast that usually bolsters him, Bryant was averaging 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists heading into Sunday's game.

Bryant also said it is sometimes frustrating not being able to make a cut, drive hard to the basket or keep his balance when chasing a loose ball like he used to when he was younger and healthier.

"I worked so hard. Really, really hard to try not to play like crap," he said.

Bryant was introduced to a roaring ovation when the Sunday game began.

Bryant said that he gave each spectator a "special message" printed on white paper with gold and black lettering that read, "My love to this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey."

Before the game, Bryant crafted a goodbye poem to basketball which was posted on The Players' Tribune website. In the poem he hearkened back to his boyhood days and dreams of playing in the National Basketball Association.

"I wanted to speak to the game," Bryant said. "Which is weird because I never spoke to the game. Once I decided to write from that perspective, the words just came." 

He said that he left "no stone unturned" in the pursuit of basketball excellence.

"My heart can take the pounding, My mind can handle the grind, But my body knows it's time to say goodbye," he wrote in his poem. "And that's OK. I'm ready to let you go. I want you to know now, So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other, All that we have."

Confided in Jordan

Bryant got off to a slow start Sunday, missing his initial six shots before getting his first basket of the game over eight minutes into the first quarter. He finished with 13 points.

Barring another injury, Bryant's final game would be at home against Utah on April 13. 

The road portion of his farewell tour begins Tuesday at Philadelphia, his hometown, where the 0-18 76ers will be trying to avoid the worst start in NBA history.

"So much of my game was developed in Philadelphia," Bryant said.

Bryant said he actually made up his mind in the offseason, and one of the first people he told was former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

"I asked him how did you know? How was it for you?

"He said 'just enjoy it. Don't let anyone take that away from you'."

Bryant said one of the things he hopes to do after this season is to make films and documentaries like the one he recently made called "Kobe Bryant's Muse."

"There are some things I am passionate about. I was born to play basketball. I had to really work to try and figure out what to do next.

"I am a storyteller. I love putting pieces of a puzzle together. I didn't know it until I made the Muse film. I have burning desires there."