Kobe Bryant is playing inspired basketball these days. Just last night he messed around and got a triple-double.
Many pundits have been throwing out the idea that Bryant has lost more than one step out there. I have to tell you, I don't see it. I see a guy who is going out there and getting better with age. Last night he was trying to challenge himself into forming a perfect game against the Kings. He was making the right decisions with his passes and he looked spry to the hoop.
But I want to play devil's advocate for a moment. There are some valid reasons that may send Kobe Bryant packing a year from now. As unbelievable as that may seem, here are some reasons that Bryant would retire.
Kobe Bryant retires and picks up soccer. Sounds ridiculous, I know. But the same thing happened with Michael Jordan and baseball. We were all caught unaware then, so stay on your toes for this one.
We all go through crisis in our lives. For athletes, the "what could have been" question revolves around their abilities to play other sports. Bryant has made no secret that he is madly in love with the beautiful game.
As Kobe ages, his window to play effectively in other endeavors closes. This is, in fact, a boyhood dream. In a Chicago Tribune article, Bryant revealed, "I loved basketball so much, but I also wanted to play for AC Milan. That was my team growing up." So, why not?
Kobe Bryant does not want for any accomplishments. After this season, he could be a six-time world champion, surpassing the Lakers' beloved Magic Johnson. Bryant has already played the most minutes and scored the most points of any Laker in history.
As for his overall accomplishments, he has an MVP both for the regular season and two in the more important Finals. He is a distinguished defender, having made the All-Defensive first team eight times. He has been a scoring champion and All-Star. There really is not much else out there for him to attain.
Kobe Bryant has a tremendous ego. That should be taken as a compliment. It is what makes him so great. Bryant's ability to hit game-winners and single-handedly change the direction of a game, as he did last night, are all due to his ego. The man thinks he can, so he does.
Well, what happens when he can't? There is no doubt that as he ages, minutes and game-winners will be divvied up to other more capable personnel. It is at that point that Bryant will make a quick exit.
As we NBA fans are quite aware, this is most likely the farewell tour for Phil Jackson. With his leaving, the Lakers lose a motivator and the locker room glue.
Lakers fans are more than knowledgeable about life without Phil. For the brief time that he was away from the Lakers in 2004, the team was atrocious. They could not find any traction with then-coach Rudy Tomjanovich. It is clear that there will be fallout when Jackson retires. I don't know that Kobe would want to stick around to find out how that story unfolds for a second time.
The Lakers could very well win the title this season. Despite the Heat's dominance in the last four games, they will suffer growing pains in their first year as a team. This could be the last shot for the Lakers to cash one in.
The Heat are very good, and they will only get better. Bryant has never been one to back down from a challenge, but as the Heat get better, the Lakers get older. Their chances to win a title diminish. With that, the sad truth is that their run may be near an end.
Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world. At the very least, he is up there with LeBron James. But a new suitor to the throne is quickly emerging. Kevin Durant will soon surpass Bryant in several areas.
As Durant slowly becomes the face of the NBA, Bryant and his mystique fade. It is an obvious truth that an athlete's run at the top is fleeting. There is a window of a few years, and Kobe is on the wrong side of that. He could pass the baton graciously, as he has always meant to.
The first thing to go in an basketball player is explosiveness. While Kobe Bryant showed last night in Sacramento to have more in the tank, it is his knees that bother me.
Knees get worse, they do not get better. Surgery delays the inevitable. There is no mistake that the knees are a sore subject with the Black Mamba. He refuses to even speak on their status anymore. But it is a subject that could derail a career.
This brings me to injuries of the general variety. Bryant is already carrying a heavy load this season. Early on he is averaging close to 32 minutes a game. This is with the team acknowledging that he is getting over knee surgery.
As his minutes grow and Kobe gets long in the tooth, the chance for injuries increase. There is always a threat that another finger injury, sprained ankle or knee issue is around the corner. Keep in mind that he is in pain at all times.
When Bryant was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show on October 25th, Patrick inquired as to what was hurting the NBA star. Kobe responded, "Everything. It's one of those things ... your feet hurt, your ankles hurt, your hamstrings are sore. It's just one of those things when you're in athletics. Unless you're 15, 16 or 17 years old and you can run all day."
All athletes seem to overstay their welcome. They retire when the poignant swan song has already played. Kobe Bryant is different. He wants to leave with a good image. If the Lakers win the championship. It will be the second three-peat he has been a part of.
After that, there is not much more to play for. With the Heat rising in the East, the writing could very well be on the wall.
This brings me to my last point. Brett Favre is showing how not retiring on time can affect your image. The once-proud Super Bowl champion is hobbled and rickety. For many of us, this is the image we will remember. Kobe Bryant does not want to go out as an old man no longer able to carry a team.
On the same Dan Patrick Show, Bryant touched upon retirement. "I'd like to make the decision based on whether I want to retire...Not my body."
He will never let himself get to the point where we question whether the coach should start him. We will never see Kobe Bryant limp away from the game. The Mamba will not allow it.