By Nazr Mohammed, a former 16-year NBA veteran who’s a regular contributor for SportsBlog.com, a content partner of the NBPA that focuses on first-person stories with pro athletes
Hearing the news of Kobe’s retirement made for a sad day for many fans and basketball players alike (including me). It’s not like I thought he would play forever, but I guess I kind of hoped that one day he would – in a sense – just disappear. No big retirement announcement, just an elusive exit that kept us all wondering where he went and if he would ever return. I wanted to hear stories of people having “Kobe sightings” like they do with Tupac (and I’m not talking about seeing him at the mall). I’m talking about hearing that he showed up to play in a random pick-up game or stories of him dropping 100 points at the Rucker. I wanted the fanfare and hoopla of teams fighting over bringing the 17-time NBA All-Star out of “retirement.”
But I think we can agree that the only place this will be happening is in my imagination…
I must admit that there is beauty in an official retirement. It gives the sense of being at peace with your decision. It makes a player analyze and decide what’s most important to them. It gives you a chance at closure. The most important aspect is that it gives you a chance to break up with the game before it breaks up with you. The truth is that the breakup is inevitable, so it’s better if it’s on your terms instead of the vicious way that the game has done to so many. I guess it’s just the fan in me that wanted more mystery when one of the NBA’s greatest two guards decided he had enough. I wanted something that added to his legend, something that made us wonder more about what made him tick. This will have to do, but with Kobe, who knows if he might change his mind. I doubt it, but as a fan of the game…I can hope.
But with the way it sounds, Kobe’s career will be coming to a close, and I think his decision to call it quits at the end of this year is understandable given the crossroads he’s facing. You either continue for the next year or so teaching this new Lakers team the tools that you have learned over your career, while taking the bumps of losing along the way. Or, you take your talents elsewhere, which means moving your family from the only place they and you have ever known. When you’ve played the game as long as he has, you understand that this may not be the answer and there’s always the fear of the situation getting worse.
It pisses me off that some of the media has questioned Kobe’s abilities at this point in his career, but I also understand that’s part of the process of an “aging” athlete. I disagree with the notion that he can’t be dominant at this stage in his career; I just believe that as you age it’s harder to find the same type of motivation. As you get older, the only thing that matters to you is being part of a winner. You can only find so much motivation in being a teacher of others when you’ve been a doer for so long. When you’re younger, you believe that you can do it alone, but as the years pass, you know that you can’t.
Personally, I still believe that he’s capable of averaging an efficient 20+ ppg on a championship caliber team, but it’s just not worth the potential cost to his normal family life. I’m rooting for him to return to his normal dominance this season because I don’t want to see a smiling, happy, cool-that-it’s-almost-over Kobe just enjoying the game. I’ve grown to appreciate a stone-faced, focused and intimidating Kobe whose only motivation is to annihilate his opponent. I want to see the Kobe whose pursuit of winning and chasing championships is his only motivation and the only thing that could (maybe) make him crack a smile on a basketball court.
Kobe’s love of the game was so intense and pure that while most loved him and some hated him, both lovers and haters alike respected him. His work ethic could rival literally anyone. Spending the night in the gym?! Working out for 3-4 hours BEFORE practice?! Being the most energetic and best player in practice and then staying after for more work?! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Kobe’s impact on this generation of basketball stars is unrivaled. His work ethic and preparation is unfathomable. Many players in this generation have heard about how hard Michael Jordan prepared and how mentally tough he was, but in this age of social media they didn’t get to see it as they did with Kobe. He impacted the way this generation of players became more about working on your craft in “The Lab” versus the previous generation of players who just played more basketball to get better. He made most of his teammates play better. He made the hardest workers question if they were working hard enough. Could you do more? When you were ready to quit, you had to ask yourself, “What Would Kobe Do?” lol. #WWKD
We are losing a great player that will never be duplicated. The times have changed and so have our superstars. This age of superstars is much different from the ones I encountered in my earlier days in the NBA. Kobe has never cared if he was liked…all he wanted was your respect and to go down as “one of the greatest.”
The thing is, it may have taken a while, but it now seems that Kobe is liked almost as much as he’s respected. And that’s something special.
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