Never the type for farewell tours, Bryant bristles at the idea of parading from arena to arena, receiving parting gifts and teary-eyed salutes. “No, no, no, no, I’m good,” he says, waving his hands. “If you booed me for 18, 19 years, boo me for the 20th. That’s the game, man.”
But that is not all what’s happened since Kobe announced his retirement plans in November.
Fans everywhere have flocked to watch him. Philadelphia fans welcomed him home with open arms. Fans in Washington and Boston chanted his name. Even when not at his games, fans are stuffing All-Star ballots with his name. Opposing players have sought him out. Michael Jordan recorded a tribute video.
Sure enough, a farewell tour.
“It kind of turned into that, didn’t it?” he told me on his way to the bus, having run the gauntlet of good-byes and thank-yous and can-I-get-a-pictures that must have been almost as exhausting as getting his 37-year-old body ready to play in this building one last time.
“I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction, to be truly honest,” he said. “But it’s been pleasantly surprising to me to be able to have this experience. And to be honest with you, it feels good. It feels damn good.”
Good for Kobe.
The Lakers’ last few seasons have certainly frustrated him. I’m glad he found a new source of gratification before this ride ended.