Kobe Bryant is retiring at the end of this season. In a piece published Sunday on the Players Tribune, the five-time NBA champion and 17-time basketball All Star wrote that this current season, his 20th in the NBA, will be his last.
“This season is all I have left to give,” Bryant wrote. “My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
The announcement, which is shaped like a poem, traces Bryant’s passion for the game all the way back to the earliest days of his childhood, when he would roll his father’s tube socks into balls and shoot them into garbage cans, an imaginary shot clock ticking down its final seconds.
It also alludes to his body’s limited ability to recover from the grind of NBA basketball. After he averaged 74 games out of a possible 82 through the first 17 regular seasons of his career, Bryant’s previous two seasons were cut short by serious injuries, including a ruptured Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. He played just 41 games total over those two seasons, and he is currently playing on a minutes restriction, intended to minimize the wear and tear on his body.
Those injury concerns, along with his Los Angeles Lakers' dim prospects for near-term success, fueled a months-long speculation that this season might be Bryant's last.
One Of The Greatest Ever
By almost any measure, Bryant will retire as one of the most successful and respected basketball players in history. The two-time NBA Finals MVP was drafted straight out of high school, and he will finish his career as the third-ranking scorer in NBA history, behind only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was named to the All-NBA team, a distinction given to the top 15 players in the league in a given season, 15 times. He was also named to the NBA's All-Defensive Team 10 times; in seven of those years, he was named All-Defensive First Team, effectively signaling that he was regarded as the best defensive player in the league at his position.
That regular season success led to frequent, long trips to the NBA postseason, where Bryant shined as well. He played in more than 200 playoff games, scoring 30 or more points in two out of every five of them. In four postseasons, he led the league in points scored.
This season he is unlikely to add to his postseason totals. The Lakers, the team he has played for his entire career, are 2-13, worst in the Western Conference.
“I’m ready to let you go,” Bryant wrote. “I want you to know now / So we both can savor every moment we have left together.”