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Kobe Bryant Discusses Retirement, NBA Career, More on 'Inside the NBA'

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2015

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant smiles as he looks on from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Washington. The Lakers won 108-104. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

Rarely do sports fans get the opportunity to appreciate something before it is gone. When Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant recently announced his intention to retire after the 2015-16 season in a piece for the Players' Tribune, he gave people the opportunity to do just that in the twilight stage of his career.

Bryant isn’t going to be the dominating force who became one of the greatest players in NBA history again, but fans can reflect on his career as they watch him play this final season. The 37-year-old guard did some reflecting of his own on Thursday’s Inside the NBA during an interview with Ernie Johnson Jr.

A number of takeaways jumped out during the back-and-forth. 

Perhaps most important for Bryant's immediate future was that he said “zero” developments could change his mind about retiring after the season, including a Lakers winning streak. Los Angeles fans may not want to see Bryant go, but the team will only move into the next stage of rebuilding once the living legend retires.

Bryant also had the opportunity to list the best competitors he has ever faced, and he said Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson “immediately” came to mind. Bryant has often been compared to Jordan throughout his career (and he listed the Chicago Bulls great, alongside Jerry West and Bill Russell, as one of the three most influential basketball people in his life), and he squared off with Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals.

Bryant and the Lakers overcame a Game 1 loss and won that series 4-1, although Iverson averaged an incredible 35.6 points per game.

That championship was one of three Bryant won with Shaquille O’Neal, but Bryant said if he had a do-over from his career, he would take more of a leadership role with the big man before the chemistry between the two stars “went south.”

Bryant listed his championship over the Boston Celtics in 2010 as his most memorable title when asked to rank his Larry O’Brien Trophies. Though that one came after O’Neal was no longer with the Lakers, Bryant tied its significance to Los Angeles overcoming a Boston team that knocked off his squad in the 2008 NBA Finals and the storied history between the two iconic franchises, not O'Neal being gone.

The future Hall of Famer also insisted he was OK with not reaching Jordan’s six titles because he did everything he could to reach the mountaintop (and did so five times).

The rest of this season will likely play out as just a farewell tour for his iconic career because the Lakers are not going to be playoff contenders. They are stuck in an awkward transition period between the Bryant era and the future, and head coach Byron Scott is still figuring out how to blend the superstar’s minutes with those of youngsters such as D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.

Bryant is nowhere near the player he once was thanks to injuries and age, but basketball fans can still expect the occasional vintage performance like the one they saw Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, when he scored 31 points and hit critical shots in the final minutes of a 108-104 win.

Those are the types of showings that helped Bryant make 17 All-Star teams and capture five rings.

While there are likely few of those outings remaining, ESPN.com's Marc Stein noted USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Bryant could occupy a roster spot in the 2016 Olympics.

A potential gold medal would be a fitting way for the legend to go out on top.

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