It’s been a rough year for Kobe Bryant. He’s had to take nights off to rest, and the 12-29 Lakers are well out of the playoff hunt at the point. Bryant has one more year on his contract after this one, but he tells the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke that he’s at least contemplated hanging it up after this season:
When asked whether he has considered retiring at the end of this season, one year before the end of his Lakers contract, he nods his head in agreement.
“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.
“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.
It would be shocking if Bryant actually walked away from the last year of his deal — he has exactly 25 million reasons not to. But he’s made so much money in his career, and will continue to make money after he’s done playing basketball (he’s one of the most iconic athletes in the world with plenty of outside business interests), that if his body is telling him no, it’s not unthinkable that he’d listen.
It’s been fascinating watching the evolution of Bryant this season. In the past, he’s been defiant, completely dismissive of the idea that he will someday not be able to play basketball the way he has his entire career. Coming into this season, following a year in which two serious leg injuries limited him to six games, he expected himself to return to form. But while he’s looked better than most people had any right to expect, and certainly shown flashes of the player who’s one of the 10 best ever to play the game, this season has seen a decidedly human Kobe, and he’s finally admitting it.
It will be a bummer to see him go, and it’s hard to imagine the NBA without him. Hopefully, he’s able to play out the final year of his contract. But even he realizes there’s a chance that won’t happen.