Just two weeks ago, Kobe Bryant(notes) was sitting courtside and laughing over the scenarios presented to him. Opting out? No, it wasn't happening. He understood people still were unsure why he hadn't signed a contract extension, but Bryant promised he hadn't retreated on his Laker-for-life mantra.
"I'm going to be a Laker," Bryant said in a private moment. "It'll get done."
No more drama for Bryant. No more suspense. He has neither the energy nor the inclination. History will remember Bryant as a Laker, and it will remember him for winning championships. He gets a three-year extension that could earn him close to $90 million, and it'll take him to his 35th birthday. This pushes Kobe closer to what he always has wanted to be: a Laker for life, a champion for the ages.
Bryant has four titles and a fifth this season will push him past his peers, Shaquille O'Neal(notes) and Tim Duncan(notes). Magic Johnson has five titles. Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have six. No, Kobe won't be catching Bill Russell and his 11 titles, but everyone else is within his reach now.
Whatever the sport, whatever the athlete, this is still a sporting culture that holds tightest to its champions. Let's face it: Expansion and salary caps make it much, much harder to win multiple titles now. Yes, Bryant is the beneficiary of his general manager, Mitch Kupchak, surrounding him with this talent, and his coach, Phil Jackson, for coaching it. Greatness is everywhere with the Lakers, but the standard is still set with Bryant.
Bryant had been the best all-around player for most of a decade, but he'll retire with one MVP trophy. Steve Nash(notes) will have two, but Kobe has one. Just like Dirk Nowitzki(notes). Perhaps that isn't the easiest thing to live with, but it's the reality now. If everyone was so sure that Bryant was all about scoring and self in his 20s, his 30s give him a chance to frame himself as a champion for the ages.
Winning is everything to him now. He is still the best shot-maker in the sport, still the player with the most stuff in his game. Every summer, Magic and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan would go home for the summer, add a dimension, a move, and bring it back for the next season. Bryant has honored that ethic of basketball.
He has never wavered on playing for Team USA in the World Championships this summer. He'll go to minicamp in Las Vegas in July. He'll go to training camp in New York in August. He'll go to Turkey. LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes) are sitting it out, but Bryant doesn't want to miss it. He has played 14 seasons in the NBA, and never thinks about his body wearing down. He'll be somewhere playing hard, somewhere searching for a game, so why not do it with Team USA?
No one should think Bryant isn't aware the United States lost in the World Championships four years ago without him. He'll love playing with Kevin Durant(notes) and he'll love having that team need him without James and Wade. He has an Olympic gold medal, and he'll try to get one of those World titles, too.
Between now and then, Kobe Bryant tries to catch Magic Johnson and his five championships. He's 31 and wants to keep going and going and going. He pushed closer Friday to what he always wanted: a Laker for life, an NBA champion for the ages.