Bryant is under contract through the end of next season, and he's talked quite a bit about what his plans are past that season in terms of retirement, but he has yet to talk in terms of absolutes, as the date for his departure has changed from conversation to conversation.
Before the start of the season (and after going through a grueling offseason of training camp and German knee procedures), Bryant seemed rather adamant that the end of his contract would mean the end of his career. He would retire after the 2014 season.
A few games into the season, Bryant was singing a different tune. He talked about wanting to play until he was 40. He did allude to potentially playing in Europe, but playing until he turns 40 would mean playing at least until the 2018-19 season, if he were to remain in the NBA.
That's not exactly two more years.
Once the All-Star Game came around, Kobe did an interview with Damon Jones (because, why not?) and told Jones that he was thinking about playing another two years at the most.
With such a wide range of possibilities regarding the end of his career, it's easy for questions to keep coming his way.
This time when it came around, Kobe was much more straightforward but ended up completely avoiding the question altogether, claiming that this summer will be when he makes the final decision. Via Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
I’ll talk to my family and stuff and really see if I want to continue to sacrifice as much as I’m sacrificing right now. I’m putting my body through a lot to just try to get ready to play every single night. To do what I’m doing right now, it’s not easy. I’ll tell you, it’s taken a lot of commitment.
When asked whether or not he thought the end of his contract would mean the end of his career, he was very upfront:
As I sit here right now, yeah.
It’s my decision. It’s really about what I want to do, if I want to train and be psychotic with my training. That’s what it comes down to. It’s really how I’m feeling physically.
If Bryant is honest in saying that he plans on playing through the end of his contract and no more, it seems as if that would put to rest the notion that he will end up passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list.
It seems surprising to hear him talk about retiring that soon, especially because he's played at an incredibly high level this season.
While his decision might mean the end of his NBA career, it's important to remember the speculation about Kobe playing in Europe.
Bryant was given a $6.7 million contract offer from an Italian team. When nothing ever grew from that, there was an offer on the table to pay Kobe $2 million for a single game, so there's plenty of interest.
Retiring at the end of his contract might not actually mean the end of Kobe's basketball career. It might be him getting out early enough that he can play basketball overseas at a respectable level.
Along with playing in Europe, Kobe has even talked about potentially buying a European basketball club and taking on running it full time.
It's not as if Kobe's decision to retire would be a decision to leave basketball altogether. However, it could mean he's through with basketball in America.
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