Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, the 17-time NBA all-star, five-time champion and a singular personality in the league’s history, admitted Sunday to the inevitable: He’s retiring after this season.
Bryant, the iconic Laker who was drafted out of high school and has become a wise and grizzled 37-year-old legend, had already suggested that this season would be his last stand. But he finally made the move official in a way that only Bryant could: He wrote a poem. His decision came several stanzas into an essay called “Dear Basketball” published Sunday night by The Players’ Tribune.
“This season is all I have left to give,” he wrote. “My heart can take the pounding/ My mind can handle the grind/ But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
By all accounts, Bryant is one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players, a ferocious competitor who never met a shot he didn’t fall in love with. He will retire as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, but ahead of Michael Jordan, the player he was compared with almost as soon as he entered the NBA in 1996.
He has only played for one team since then: the Los Angeles Lakers. He won back-to-back-to-back titles in 2001, 2001 and 2002 with Shaquille O’Neal, and then he proved he could do it by himself a decade later by leading the Lakers to the 2009 and 2010 championships.
But his farewell tour begins at a time when the Lakers aren’t what they used to be. Los Angeles was 2-13 before its game Sunday and will miss the playoffs barring a miracle along the lines of Bryant reverse-aging by eight years.
His advanced age and an onslaught of injuries have made Bryant a shadow of himself in the last three years. He played a combined 41 games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons because of a litany of ailments that threatened to end his career then. He still came back this year as the team’s highest paid-player and has taken more field-goal attempts than anyone on the Lakers despite the fact that the franchise needs to develop its younger players. This season was always going to be another transition year for the Lakers after two years of missing the playoffs.
Now it becomes Bryant’s sendoff, too.
The tributes to Bryant from NBA luminaries started pouring in only minutes after his announcement was published on the website founded by Derek Jeter—someone who is no stranger to elaborate retirements himself. In his own retirement season, opposing teams celebrated Jeter by showering him with increasingly outlandish gifts, including cowboy boots, kayaks, paddle boards, electric guitars and a bucket of Maryland crabs.
Whether or not Bryant gets the same treatment remains to be seen. But one of the first people to weigh in on Bryant’s impending retirement Sunday night was NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” he said.