Kobe Bryant: “Do I want to play again or don’t I… the reality is no, I don’t.”

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant has known the answer for a while, he just wasn’t ready to admit it to himself. Let alone the world.

He wanted to try to wring one more season of good basketball out of his 37-year-old body. He wanted to try to talk himself out what his body was telling him. If he put in the work like he always had — if he lifted weights and stretched and took ice baths and watched film obsessively — he could still have a dramatic, positive impact on an NBA court.

A month into the season, Kobe admitted to himself he couldn’t will himself to do it anymore.

“Ultimately it’s a decision I had to make in life: Do I want to play again or don’t I?” Kobe asked. “It’s a very simple question, but it’s hard question to really answer. And the reality is no, I don’t. So why belabor it?”

Kobe announced that he will retire from the NBA at the end of this season.

Speaking to the media at Staples Center after another Lakers’ loss Sunday, what was clear was Kobe was comfortable with his decision. As Byron Scott had said before, Kobe was at peace with it.

“I’ve known for a while,” Bryant said. “I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that.”

For two decades of his NBA career — in reality, much longer than that — basketball had been Kobe’s obsession. It drove his every decision, his every action. But even that had begun to change. He regularly meditates (thanks, Phil Jackson) and it was there he started to realize what was happening.

“Sitting in meditation for me, my mind starts drifting, and it always drifted to basketball. Always. And it doesn’t do that anymore,” Kobe said. “It does that sometimes, it doesn’t do that all the time. That was the first indicator that this game was not something I can obsess over much longer.”

Not that Kobe was going to give up the game without a fight. Kobe is not going to just roll over. However, after 20 seasons, 55,000 NBA minutes, a torn Achilles and major knee injury, hard work was not enough. Obsession was no longer enough. His body was quitting on him.

He’s accepted and come to peace with that.

“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it…” Bryant said. “I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like shit, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”

Make no mistake he is playing like crap. He’s a shell of his old self on defense. After a 4-of-20 shooting performance against the Pacers Sunday night, Kobe is shooting 30.5 percent on the season. He was 2-of-15 to start the game.

But a flash of vintage Kobe is what everyone will remember from Sunday’s game — they will talk about his two late fourth quarter three pointers, one a ridiculous leaner, that helped a Lakers’ comeback and brought the team within two points of the Pacers late in the fourth. After a Paul George free throw (George had 35 on the night), Kobe got a chance for a three to tie the game. He sprinted up off a down screen, caught the ball and moved along the top of the arc, getting enough space to get off a quick shot. And he airballed it. Which speaks to where his legs are now.

Kobe still loves putting in the work, which is one reason he’s not walking away mid-season (that $25 million contract may be a factor as well). He said “there is so much beauty in the pain of this league.” He still loves the effort of trying to get better every day.

He’s just not seeing results anymore. If he were playing better, if the young Lakers like D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were coming along more quickly, if this Lakers’ team was more respectable, then his decision might be different. But none of those things are happening.

That doesn’t mean anyone gets to talk smack to Kobe.

“We were playing Portland and some kid from the bench said something to me, said ‘we’re going to beat you tonight.’ I looked at him and said ‘I’ve got one rule: If you weren’t born when I started playing you can’t talk trash. It’s a simple rule’ And he looked and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

Coach Byron Scott and GM Mitch Kupchak have not talked about how Kobe will be used going forward after this decision, although don’t expect much of a change. This is the Kobe Bryant farewell tour now, and at home and on the road he will have adulation rained on him by the fans. They want to see Kobe be Kobe, and it’s not like he’s suddenly going to change playing styles.

Kobe appreciates and said he loves the fans, but it’s what he hears from other players — guys who have gone to him for advice such as Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, James Harden — that matters most to Bryant.

“The coolest thing is the messages I receive from the players,” he said. “They say thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the lessons, for the mentality. Those things honestly mean the most from me, that respect from the peers, there’s nothing in the world that beats that.”

It’s hard to walk away from that. To willingly step back from the only life you’ve known for two decades. Even if it’s been obvious for a little while it was time.

Bryant had to admit to himself it was time. Now he has, hopefully he can savor every moment of this season and leave it on his own terms.

 

Celtics, Nuggets look ahead to playoffs, not to past meeting

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — November was a long time ago, so chances are the Boston Celtics have gotten over Jamal Murray‘s antics from the first time they played the Denver Nuggets.

Then again, NBA players have long memories.

Murray scored 48 points in the Nuggets’ 115-107 in Denver on Nov. 5 and jacked up a last-second 3-pointer to try to reach 50. Boston guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t happy and threw the basketball into the stands after the buzzer, drawing a fine.

After the game, Murray acknowledged he got caught up in the moment, and Irving said there would be no hangover.

“What kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother? I was (mad), but we’re not going to make a big thing about it,” he said that night.

Irving can prove there are no hard feelings when the teams meet in Boston on Monday night. In fact, the Celtics might be thanking the Nuggets for helping them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Denver beat the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night while Boston was taking care of Atlanta, allowing the Celtics to move within a game of the Pacers for the fourth seed.

Boston (43-27) has two more games against Indiana but the Nuggets are the immediate priority. The Celtics have bigger concerns than payback for Murray, too. Center Al Horford left Saturday’s game after he banged his knee but was able to return, while forward Gordon Hayward left in the first half with a strained neck and didn’t return.

Horford appeared fine but Boston is trying to manage his minutes down the stretch. Hayward’s status for Monday is unknown after colliding with Atlanta forward John Collins. Coach Brad Stevens said after the game that Hayward was woozy at halftime.

“You could see right away that it was quite a hit,” Stevens said.

Denver has dealt with injuries all season but is finally fully healthy. Despite that, the Nuggets have struggled the past two-plus weeks, going 4-4 since Feb. 28 and needing late-game heroics to pull out two home wins.

All-Star Nikola Jokic hit a game-winner against Dallas on Thursday, and Saturday it was Paul Millsap saving the day. Denver (46-22) is securely in second place in the West as it starts a four-game trip through the Eastern Conference, thanks in part to a 12-3 record in games decided by three or fewer points.

“It’s great. Those are the moments that make the team,” Millsap said of the close victories. “It shows the type of character we have, it shows the type of team we have. Those situations can make or break a team and we’ve been able to thrive off of it.”

Jokic has been the catalyst, leading the team in scoring (20.3), rebounds (10.7) and assists (7.6). He showed his temper Saturday when he got ejected with 2:56 left and Denver leading by seven. Indiana rallied to tie it only to have Millsap hit the winning layup with seven seconds left.

“(We’re) talking about an All-Star guy who gets knocked around a lot, but through it all he (does) have to keep his composure, fight through it,” Millsap said. “Playoff atmosphere. Plays like that are going to happen, you’re not always going to get the call, you just have to fight through it.”

Monday’s game could be the first Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas plays at TD Garden since he was traded to Cleveland 18 months ago. Thomas led Boston to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals but was dealt for Irving in the offseason, and then to the Los Angeles Lakers during last season.

Hip surgery kept him out until just before the All-Star break. He played in nine games before being out of the rotation the last three heading into Boston.

Kevin Durant to return to Warriors vs. Spurs Monday, Bogut to make (another) debut

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Kevin Durant missed two games with a tweaked ankle, and the Warriors beat the Rockets and Thunder — maybe their two biggest threats in the West — anyway.

Now he is back, starting Monday night against the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr confirmed the news, reports NBC Sports Bay Area, adding that Kerr said Durant could have played Saturday against Oklahoma City if it had been a playoff game, but the Warriors decided to be cautious.

“I’m excited to play again,” Durant said following Monday’s shootaround in San Antonio.

Golden State will be without DeMarcus Cousins for Monday’s game, but the team got good news about his ankle injury, he is listed as day-to-day and should return soon.

With Durant out, Andrew Bogut has been pressed into action sooner than the Warriors wanted. The plan had been to let him sit out until the Warriors return home from their current road trip, but now Bogut is in San Antonio and will play tonight, Kerr said to NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I’m going to play him,” Kerr said Monday. “Without DeMarcus, we’ve got to guard LaMarcus Aldridge, so [Kevon] Looney can guard LaMarcus, Draymond [Green] but Bogut will be out there at some point.”

Report: Former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg frontrunner at Nebraska

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After getting fired as Bulls coach, Fred Hoiberg was reportedly drawing consideration from the Timberwolves – for coaching or the front office. Minnesota could undergo a major overhaul post-Tom Thibodeau.

Hoiberg said he preferred to coach. The former Iowa State coach also said he’d weigh pro and college opportunities.

A college offer could come first.

Jeff Goodman of Stadium:

Frontrunner to get offered the job or frontrunner to fill the job? There’s a big difference.

I would’ve thought Hoiberg could get a better college gig. But I also don’t know much how much money Nebraska is offering or how Hoiberg values that position. He was born in Lincoln and grew up rooting for Nebraska football. His grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Cornhuskers basketball team.

Hoiberg shouldn’t hold his breath waiting for an NBA head-coaching job. He didn’t distinguish himself in three-plus seasons in Chicago. Maybe he would’ve looked better with better players, or even better-fitting players. But NBA coaches rarely get to pick their roster. They must adjust better to the personnel they have.

I also wouldn’t rule out Hoiberg getting another NBA head-coaching job. Few, if any coaches, would have won with those Bulls. Another NBA team could give him another chance – if he doesn’t take the Nebraska job first.

Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes record 11th player with 50-point game this season

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During the entire 2012-13 season, three players scored 50 points in a game.

By the end of last October, four players – Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Derrick Rose – already had 50-point games this season.

James Harden has since scored 50 six times. Kemba Walker, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard also dropped 50 in a game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 52-pointer yesterday made him the 11th different player to score 50 points in a game this season – a record. Ten players scored 50 in a game each of the last two seasons.

This is definitely a record geared toward modern times. Scoring is up. There have never been more games (30 teams playing 82-game schedules). Those conditions give individuals a chance to shine.

And so many of them have taken advantage with a big scoring night, at least once.

Harden is the only player with multiple 50-point games this season, so this year won’t come close to the record for total 50 point games. The 16 this season are fourth-most all-time – behind 1961-62 (57), 1962-63 (34) and 2006-07 (18). Wilt Chamberlain alone had 45 in 1961-62 and 30 in 1962-63. Kobe Bryant had 10 in 2006-07.

But in terms of variety of 50-point games, this season is unmatched.

Here are how many different players had a 50-point game each season, followed by a list of them all:image

2018-19: 11

James Harden (HOU), 6

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS), 1

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Derrick Rose (MIN), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Blake Griffin (DET), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

LeBron James (LAL), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

2017-18: 10

James Harden (HOU), 4

C.J. McCollum (POR), 1

Lou Williams (LAC), 1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kevin Durant (GSW), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Bradley Beal (WAS), 1

2016-17: 10

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 4

James Harden (HOU), 2

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Devin Booker (PHO), 1

Damian Lillard (POR), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Isaiah Thomas (BOS), 1

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

John Wall (WAS), 1

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

2015-16: 8

Stephen Curry (GSW), 3

Damian Lillard (POR), 2

DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), 1

Kemba Walker (CHA), 1

Jimmy Butler (CHI), 1

Anthony Davis (NOP), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

James Harden (HOU), 1

2014-15: 6

Kyrie Irving (CLE), 2

James Harden (HOU), 2

Klay Thompson (GSW), 1

Mo Williams (MIN), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Russell Westbrook (OKC), 1

2013-14: 5

Kevin Durant (OKC), 2

Terrence Ross (TOR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

Corey Brewer (MIN), 1

2012-13: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Stephen Curry (GSW), 1

Carmelo Anthony (NYK), 1

2011-12: 3

Kevin Durant (OKC), 1

Kevin Love (MIN), 1

Deron Williams (NJN), 1

2010-11: 2

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

LeBron James (MIA), 1

2009-10: 3

Andre Miller (POR), 1

Carmelo Anthony (DEN), 1

Brandon Jennings (MIL), 1

2008-09: 7

Dwyane Wade (MIA), 3

LeBron James (CLE), 3

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Kevin Martin (SAC), 1

Tony Parker (SAS), 1

Jamal Crawford (GSW), 1

Brandon Roy (POR), 1

2007-08: 3

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 2

Allen Iverson (DEN), 1

2006-07: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 10

Gilbert Arenas (WAS), 3

Michael Redd (MIL), 2

Jamal Crawford (NYK), 1

Ray Allen (SEA), 1

Richard Hamilton (DET), 1

2005-06: 6

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 6

LeBron James (CLE), 2

Paul Pierce (BOS), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

Vince Carter (NJN), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2004-05: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 3

Damon Stoudamire (POR), 1

Jermaine O’Neal (IND), 1

Amar’e Stoudemire (PHO), 1

LeBron James (CLE), 1

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL), 1

2003-04: 4

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 2

Jamal Crawford (CHI), 1

Rashard Lewis (SEA), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

2002-03: 4

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 3

Allan Houston (NYK), 2

Jamal Mashburn (NOH), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

2001-02: 6

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

Tracy McGrady (ORL), 1

Shareef Abdur-Rahim (ATL), 1

Michael Jordan (WAS), 1

Tim Duncan (SAS), 1

2000-01: 7

Allen Iverson (PHI), 2

Antawn Jamison (GSW), 2

Chris Webber (SAC), 1

Tony Delk (PHO), 1

Stephon Marbury (NJN), 1

Jerry Stackhouse (DET), 1

Kobe Bryant (LAL), 1

1999-00: 4

Clifford Robinson (PHO), 1

Vince Carter (TOR), 1

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1997-98: 3

Tracy Murray (WAS), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Shaquille O’Neal (LAL), 1

1996-97: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Allen Iverson (PHI), 1

1995-96: 5

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Alonzo Mourning (MIA), 1

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Karl Malone (UTA), 1

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (DEN), 1

1994-95: 7

Michael Jordan (CHI), 1

Dana Barros (PHI), 1

Glen Rice (MIA), 1

Jim Jackson (DAL), 1

Jamal Mashburn (DAL), 1

Cedric Ceballos (LAL), 1

Willie Burton (PHI), 1

1993-94: 2

David Robinson (SAS), 2

Shaquille O’Neal (ORL), 1

1992-93: 4

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

David Robinson (SAS), 1

Nick Anderson (ORL), 1

Reggie Miller (IND), 1

1991-92: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 2

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

1990-91: 5

Bernard King (WSB), 2

Vernon Maxwell (HOU), 1

Michael Adams (DEN), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Charles Smith (LAC), 1

1989-90: 8

Michael Jordan (CHI), 3

Karl Malone (UTA), 2

Tom Chambers (PHO), 2

Terry Cummings (SAS), 1

Patrick Ewing (NYK), 1

Hakeem Olajuwon (HOU), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dale Ellis (SEA), 1

1988-89: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 5

Clyde Drexler (POR), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1987-88: 2

Michael Jordan (CHI), 4

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 2

1986-87: 3

Michael Jordan (CHI), 8

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 3

Moses Malone (WSB), 1

1985-86: 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Dominique Wilkins (ATL), 1

Alex English (DEN), 1

1984-85: 5

Bernard King (NYK), 3

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Kevin McHale (BOS), 1

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (PHI), 1

1983-84: 3

Bernard King (NYK), 2

Kiki Vandeweghe (DEN), 2

Purvis Short (GSW), 1

1982-83: 4

Kelly Tripucka (DET), 1

Larry Bird (BOS), 1

Joe Barry Carroll (GSW), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1981-82: 4

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Ray Williams (NJN), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

1980-81: 4

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 3

Bernard King (GSW), 1

Moses Malone (HOU), 1

Billy Knight (IND), 1

1979-80: 5

George Gervin (SAS), 2

Freeman Williams (SDC), 1

Larry Kenon (SAS), 1

Adrian Dantley (UTA), 1

Mike Newlin (NJN), 1

1978-79: 3

George Gervin (SAS), 1

Truck Robinson (NOJ), 1

John Drew (ATL), 1

1977-78: 5

Rick Barry (GSW), 2

Calvin Murphy (HOU), 1

George Gervin (SAS), 1

David Thompson (DEN), 1

John Williamson (NJN), 1

1976-77: 2

Pete Maravich (NOJ), 4

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1975-76: 2

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 2

Phil Smith (GSW), 1

1974-75: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Gail Goodrich (LAL), 1

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

1973-74: 3

Rick Barry (GSW), 3

Bob McAdoo (BUF), 1

Fred Brown (SEA), 1

1972-73: 5

Tiny Archibald (KCO), 3

Geoff Petrie (POR), 2

Rick Barry (GSW), 1

Spencer Haywood (SEA), 1

Phil Chenier (BAL), 1

1971-72: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 5

Pete Maravich (ATL), 2

Tiny Archibald (CIN), 1

Chet Walker (CHI), 1

1970-71: 4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 2

Dave Bing (DET), 1

Walt Wesley (CLE), 1

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1969-70: 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 1

Lou Hudson (ATL), 1

1968-69: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (LAL), 2

Elvin Hayes (SDR), 1

1967-68: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 4

Earl Monroe (BAL), 1

Willis Reed (NYK), 1

1966-67: 2

Rick Barry (SFW), 6

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 1

1965-66: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHI), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Sam Jones (BOS), 1

Rick Barry (SFW), 1

1964-65: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW/PHI), 9

Oscar Robertson (CIN), 2

Jerry West (LAL), 1

1963-64: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 9

Hal Greer (PHI), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1962-63: 2

Wilt Chamberlain (SFW), 30

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 4

1961-62: 7

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 45

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Jerry West (LAL), 2

Richie Guerin (NYK), 2

Cliff Hagan (STL), 1

Rudy LaRusso (LAL), 1

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1960-61: 3

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 8

Elgin Baylor (LAL), 5

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1959-60: 4

Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 5

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Richie Guerin (NYK), 1

1958-59: 4

Bob Pettit (STL), 2

Jack Twyman (CIN), 1

Elgin Baylor (MNL), 1

Dolph Schayes (SYR), 1

1957-58: 2

George Yardley (DET), 2

Bob Pettit (STL), 1

1953-54: 1

Neil Johnston (PHW), 1

1951-52: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1949-50: 1

George Mikan (MNL), 1

1948-49: 2

George Mikan (MNL), 2

Joe Fulks (PHW), 1