“My body knows it’s time to say goodbye” wrote five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant as he poetically announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.
During a 20-year career with the LA Lakers, the 37-year-old has scored 32,683 points, though in recent seasons his form has been hindered by injury.
Bryant signaled his plan to retire in a poem on the Players’ Tribune website, later telling the media he felt “at peace” with his decision and “excited for what’s to come.”
Ranked third on the NBA’s all-time list, the two-time Olympic gold medalist averaged more than 25 points in his 1,293 NBA games.
Catch Bryant while you can: his final game is set to be at home against Utah on April 13 — unless the last-place Lakers can pull off the unlikely and qualify for the playoffs.
“I feel very solid in my decision,” Bryant told a press conference following his announcement on Sunday. “Do I want to play again or don’t I? It’s a very simple question, but it’s a hard question to look in the mirror and ask yourself. The reality is: No, I don’t. So why labor it?”
Bryant’s verdict is not surprising, as his body had been failing him over the past few years.
The 2008 league MVP and five-time champion has played in only 41 games over the previous two seasons, after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in April 2013 and torn rotator cuff in January.
Though he has starred in 13 of the Lakers 16 games this season, his declining numbers indicated the end was near.
Bryant is shooting only 30% from the field and 20% from 3-point range while averaging 15.5 points per game — numbers that recently caused him to say he was the “200th-best player in the NBA.”
Turning pro directly out of high school in 1996 — as the youngest NBA player ever, at the time — and enduring long runs into the playoffs, Bryant’s body suffered more wear and tear than his peers.
In 2011 he visited Dr. Peter Wehling in Germany to perform a controversial “blood spinning” process on his ailing knee. The procedure, which was not licensed in the U.S., extracts blood from a patient before spinning it in a centrifuge and re-injecting it as a healing agent.
Bryant played in 70 and 78 games over the following two seasons, but has struggled to stay on the court ever since.
All of Bryant’s championships were won under coach Phil Jackson, who the player consulted before making his decision.
“Phil understands,” said the player nicknamed “Black Mamba”. “He and I understand each other. He said, ‘Break the season into sections. Just take it one chunk at a time and try to get through it.'”
During the first of his Finals runs, Bryant formed a devastating tandem with Shaquille O’Neal — then the most dominant player in the league. But egos clashed, causing O’Neal to be traded to Miami in 2004.
By 2008 the Lakers traded for Paul Gasol, who formed a close relationship with the team captain.
The two would often be heard conversing in Spanish (Bryant also speaks Italian, having grown up in Italy), and their chemistry notched a further two championships under the Phil and Kobe era.
“We have lived incredible moments together on and off the court. Thanks for everything brother!” Gasol tweeted, after hearing the news.
Never trigger shy, Bryant’s scoring prowess was encapsulated in an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2005, the most since Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in 1962.
Not even Michael Jordan — his mentor on and off the court — achieved that feat, though Bryant will not be matching Jordan’s mark of six championships in his last season.
The two spoke before Bryant made his announcement.
“He was actually one of the first people that I told over the summer,” Bryant said of the Bulls legend, while asking how Jordan — who came out of retirement twice — made his career-ending decision.
“We’ve been in frequent contact,” Bryant said. “We had some laughs back and forth about it. The important thing from him was to just enjoy it no matter what. Just enjoy it. Don’t let anybody take that away from you, no matter what happens. Good or bad, enjoy it.”
Known as a gym rat whose 5am workouts would put much younger teammates to shame, Bryant expects to devote his newfound spare time into nurturing his business interests.
He launched branding company Kobe Inc. last year, and has dabbled in film production. Like Jordan and fellow Lakers legend Magic Johnson, Bryant expects to take his business interests to the same elite level achieved on the hardwood.
“I was in Milan and wanted to meet with Giorgio Armani and talk to him a little bit about how he built his business,” Bryant said. “He started to build his business at the age of 40, and I was 21.
“I said to myself, I’ll probably play to 35, 36, whatever the case may be. He built a whole business at 40. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? What comes next?
“From that point on, I started figuring things out, trying different things. Dabbling in this, dabbling in that, trying to figure out what exactly that passion is,” he added.
“It’s not as easy as basketball, because I was born to play basketball and had to really work to figure out what comes next.
“That’s really hard, man; really, really hard. But that’s what we as athletes have to figure out.”