HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Even if he isn’t ready to share any specifics or an exact timeline, Kobe Bryant knows where the finish line is in his Hall of Fame career.
Could it be two years or maybe even three from now?
It’s hard to tell when the Los Angeles Lakers’ star refuses to divulge his master plan about how walking away from the game that framed his life the past two decades, including the four years before he entered the league just weeks after his high school graduation.
Bryant hinted in July that he would be ready to call it quits at 35, when his current contract expires.
Now comes word, via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, that Bryant is indeed sticking with that plan:
Speaking with CBSSports.com in a quiet moment after practice, Bryant conceded that, in all likelihood, the finish line and the conclusion of his current contract will be one in the same. Bryant has two years left, and though he was careful to point out, “One can never be too sure,” he made it clear in the next breath it’s almost unfathomable he would play beyond 2013-14, which would be his 18th season.
“It’s just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health,” Bryant said. “That’s a lot of years. For a guard? That’s a lot of years.”
Even after visiting the fountain of youth in the form of a knee procedure in Germany that allowed him to average nearly 39 minutes per game last season, Bryant senses that the end is near — and not only for his knees, wrist, ankles or other body parts, but also for his incomparably competitive mind. The window, he is ready to acknowledge, is two years. Two more chances to catch Jordan.
“It’s not about health necessarily,” he said. “It’s about ‘Do I want to do it? Do I have that hunger to continue to prepare at a high level?’ ”
Bill Parcells, a competitive sociopath from another sport, used to say that if you’re talking about retirement, it means you’ve basically already retired. To hear Bryant, the most cutthroat basketball combatant of his generation, speak about the day — the moment — when his smoldering desire to win finally will be extinguished, was something to behold.
So much so that the next question — about whether Bryant would ever change his mind and hang on for an extra year or two as a role player averaging 15 points just to pad his championship resume — needn’t have been asked.
“That’s not gonna happen,” Bryant said. “That’s just not me.”
True to his character, Bryant doesn’t seem interested in riding someone else’s coat tails during the twilight of his career. We can respect that stance. Any true competitor would.
It would have to be painful for a player who refused to subjugate his game and ego at the start of his career to Shaquille O’Neal do so at the end of his career.
But if the end is near for Kobe — and only Kobe knows when it will end — we all better get our popcorn ready to enjoy his final kick to the finish line.