HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The question will linger perhaps until this time next year.
Is it over?
Was the 2015-16 season Kobe Bryant‘s last?
And if it is the end, how will his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers and in the NBA play out with the likes of Lakers owners Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, general manager Mitch Kupchak and new faces like D’Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams all having a say in his finale?
Kobe addressed those pressing issues, and much more, in an exclusive Q&A with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
Q: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted that next season can be your last. Could it be?
Kobe: “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’
“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”
Q: Would you want a farewell tour?
Kobe: “It’s hard to do that type of stuff because I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not. It’s not a swan song when it all has not been written.”
Q: How does your body feel now and what is the difference between now and entering training camp last season?
Kobe: “The body is good. I feel good. … My lower body is solid. There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy. That’s the big difference. My upper body, I’ve been doing the weights and stuff like that. I’ve been kind of building up the upper body strength. The biggest change is I feel very, very solid in my legs.”
Q: Why do you still put your body through this after all the years and injuries?
Kobe: “I’m crazy. Ha, ha, ha. I love playing. I enjoy it. It’s weird. You go from as a kid loving the game, thinking you will be able to play forever to being where I am now and understanding there is some finality to it.
“It’s amazing to take a step back and look at that art. You’re kind of the opposite of starting out as a kid. You’re sitting here at 36 and soon to be 37 years old, it’s amazing.”
Q: How do you fight the pain and do the needed rehabilitation?
Kobe: “I just go. Once I make the decision I am going to take this challenge on, I never waver and I never question the investment. I already made the decision. You have those painful moments, but you just keep on moving.”
Q: When you see the mammoth money that could be available to you as a free agent next summer, does that make it more attractive to continue playing?
Kobe: “Zero. Zero. I’ve never played for the money. It’s never moved me. Money can come and go. I have a perspective about finances. The family is fine. What is more money going to bring other than more money? I have my family, I have my health and we’re comfortable financially and that is a massive blessing.
“I don’t want to undervalue the importance of generating any type of whatever. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m underappreciative of that or not thankful for that. But at the same, what is really important? What is the important thing? I never played for money. When I laced my sneakers up when I was a kid in Italy I wasn’t thinking about money. I had no idea how much Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird got paid. I played it because I loved it.”
While Kobe insists there is nothing set in stone in terms of if this being his final season, the fact that he’s even entertaining the possibility is worth noting.
The end of an era, or perhaps the end of his era in the NBA, could be on its way soon.