It was a strange scene Sunday night. One wouldn’t have expected to see Kobe Bryant smiling after the Los Angeles Lakers lost 107-103 against the Indiana Pacers while shooting only 4-for-20 from the field, but he did so hours after officially announcing his retirement.
“I’ve known for a while,” Bryant said, “A decision like this, you can’t make that decision based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision, and finally I’ve decided to accept that I can’t actually do this anymore, and I’m OK with that.”
The five-time NBA Champion’s words rang home to me. A historic basketball player, a record-breaking player, was announcing his retirement. The NBA would never be the same.
However, I thought back to all the times Bryant had been talked about in the media. Everything from the sexual assault allegations back in 2003 to the more recent talks of Bryant refusing to take a pay cut, despite lack of production and little to no support cast behind.
All around the world analysts are talking about his Hall of Fame career, and what a great career Kobe had, but little are talking about the smudges, the black-caked grime of his career. Marks that were caused by Kobe himself.
Bryant is a great player, maybe one of the best, but a severely flawed player who could have been the best player of all time.
It all started in 2003 when Bryant was accused of sexual assault, darkening his squeaky clean reputation. He pleaded not guilty, and the charges were eventually dropped after the accuser refused to testify in court.
Furthermore, Bryant has often been described as a difficult and demanding teammate. Former Laker’s center Dwight Howard, when asked about playing with Bryant, described it as being “very tough.”
Most notably, Bryant and former Laker Shaquille O’Neal seemed in constant frustration with one another on the court, despite winning three of Bryant’s five NBA Championships together.
A most notable mark on Bryant’s career is his declining production, leaving many to believe that Bryant should have retired years ago.
It was thought that over the last couple of years Bryant would admit his falling production, his age, and accept a lower paid contract, allowing the Lakers to acquire a big name in free agency to supplement the aging shooting guard. However, according to ESPN, Bryant has been the top-paid player in NBA over the past six years.
The lack of production this year had been a hard pill to swallow for the future Hall of Famer. Bryant had been shooting around 31%, a career-low and the lowest in the league among players who had taken at least 150 attempts. His three-point percentage of 19 was also a career-low and a league-low among players who had taken a least 60 attempts before his announcement.
However, this isn’t exactly a sudden change. Bryant has been steadily declining since 2011. Some would say that the contract situation is not on Kobe, it’s on the Lakers.
While maybe true, there have been several aging players in NBA who have taken pay cuts in order to build a better team. Bryant wasn’t going to be one of them.
In the end, Bryant was a great player—anyone who can score 81 points in a single game is great. However, whenever I think about Bryant I think about the man who forced Dwight Howard out of Los Angeles, or the man who failed to live up to his own expectations toward the end of his career.