Kobe Bryant adjusting to older body, still leading only way he knows how

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In some ways, things are very different for Kobe Bryant now.

For years, he would push his body as hard as he could and it would respond. His work ethic was legendary, and the results have been a career with five championship rings and a guy who is third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Now, Kobe can’t push his body that same way. When he tried at the start of the season — at the request of coach Byron Scott, who thought Kobe still could — he got exhausted. And eventually his body broke down.

However, Kobe isn’t walking away right now — he wants to leave the game on his terms. And while he does that he is trying to show some of the Lakers of the future how to win the only way he knows how.

All of that is the focus of a new long-form piece on Kobe that I wrote for NBC’s Sports World.

Here’s a quick taste, starting with Kevin McHale talking about great players leaving the game.

McHale played through a number of ankle injuries (that required surgery) and debilitating back pain his last few seasons. He could have retired when Larry Bird did in the summer of 1992, but McHale came back for one more go around, doing so on a team that was clearly not a contender.

There was a simple reason for that.

“I wanted to go out playing, and we made it to a playoff series and we lost but I went out playing as hard as I possibly could. I found a little magic in a bottle for a couple weeks and played pretty good, then that was the end of it,” said McHale, who averaged 19.6 points per game on 58 percent shooting during that first-round playoff loss to Charlotte in 1993. “It’s hard. You’re used to being able to do things, you’re used to your body responding, and if you’re a good player you’re used to your body bouncing back and doing a lot of stuff. You never really thought it could not hold up, but at some point it goes down.”

Should that aging body change how you lead? Not according to Chauncey Billups.

“No, it doesn’t,” Billups told me during All-Star weekend about whether his injuries changed the way he tried to lead. “The way you lead is who you are. It’s who you are no matter if you’re coming to the game in a suit, you’re on the sidelines cheering guys on, or if you’re dressed to play. That’s just who you are, it’s instinctual. So no, (an injury) doesn’t change the way you lead. Not at all.”

Kobe is going to leave the game on his terms. He’s going to go out the only way he’s known how to play the game for two decades.