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Kobe Bryant's announcement that he will retire at the end of this NBA season captured the basketball world's attention, if not its surprise, on Sunday afternoon. His post-game press conference after the night's 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers served as a reminder that the Los Angeles Lakers icon's eccentricities and focus will be impossible to replace.
Speaking to media for the first time since his post for The Players' Tribune, Kobe explained the rationale behind his decision and held forth on a number of related topics. It was a fascinating exchange, arguably more watchable than any of the day's basketball games. Take a look:
The full 25-minute video is available on NBA.com, as well. If you can't watch either video, then here's a short rundown of the highlights. The big news came early, when Bryant simply explained that basketball is no longer one of his obsessions:
A recap of his daily meditation sessions covered the same ground in different fashion:
Kobe also stated that he chose not to retire immediately because "there's so much beauty in the pain of this thing." To put it another way, Kobe appears to value the narrative of his final season more than his lived experience of it.
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Given that response, it may not surprise you to learn that he also said that he has considered his post-basketball plans for the majority of his career and appreciates the chance to make a mark in another field (or several of them). With interests ranging from finance to art to poetry, it's an open question as to what he'll choose first. The fact that he answered media questions in English, Spanish, and Italian highlights the breadth of his international appeal.
Oh, and he also apparently spoke to Michael Jordan about this decision several months ago:
Again, it's well worth watching the videos. They confirm once again that the Lakers star is a unique presence in this league.
However, these post-game event should not obscure that Bryant had a fairly eventful night against the Pacers, although not entirely for positive reasons. First, he welcomed each fan to Staples Center with his second letter of the day, a show of thanks for the support he has received over his 20 seasons with the franchise. Here's a look at it, followed by the complete text:
When we first met I was just a kid.
Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.
But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.
You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.
Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.
You witnessed my fears morph into strength.
Your rejection taught me courage.
Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.
What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.
I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.
I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.
My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.
Thank you for this incredible journey.
His on-court performance was not quite so eloquent. Kobe started the night shooting just 2-of-17 from the field and left the court at the 7:41 mark of the fourth quarter with the Pacers up 84-72. Yet the Lakers improved their play enough to cut the deficit to 92-87 by the time Kobe returned with 3:34 remaining in regulation.
He looked sharper late, making his first three of the night with just over a minute left and hitting this vintage fadeaway over Paul George to bring the Lakers within just one point with 12 seconds left:
That shot showcased a Kobe we've seen all to rarely this season. Would the emotion of the day carry him to late-game heroics?
No, not so much. After George canned two free throws to bring the margin back to three points, Bryant put up this attempt:
That airball finished Kobe's night at 4-of-20 from the field for 13 points. George led the way for Indiana with 39 points on 10-of-21 FG, 5-of-10 3FG, and 14-of-17 FT.
Nevertheless, that one shot did enough to allow Kobe to leave the court with some pride. In fact, the aftermath of the Lakers' sixth-straight loss was fairly positive. George, a native of nearby Palmdale and childhood Lakers fan, professed that it was honor to play Kobe on this day and spoke of how happy he was for his boyhood idol.
Expect similar scenes as Kobe winds down his career over these next few months. The 39-year-old may not receive the warmest welcomes from some road crowds, but the vast majority of the league's players grew up watching him and hold great respect for his many accomplishments. Love him or hate him, he means as much to the sport as any player has in the past 15 years.
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