Everybody wants a piece of Kobe Bryant's farewell tour—especially his opponents.
On Tuesday, ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes published a story about the demand for signed kicks from the Black Mamba, a token of respect that has turned into a bit of a ritual this season.
"Generally guys that got the cojones to ask, I give it to them,” Bryant told Holmes. "I've got plenty of them back there, so I'm not going to run out, so it's all good."
The Los Angeles Lakers legend estimated he's signed at least 30 pairs of sneakers this year—some game-worn, others fresh from the box.
Bryant typically brings five extra pairs to each away game, but that number has climbed to as many as seven.
He also adds a personalized note for each player:
To Draymond Green, Bryant wrote, "Make history!"
To Tony Allen, Bryant wrote, "The best defender I ever faced!"
To Kevin Durant, Bryant wrote, "Be the greatest."
Bryant does not discriminate, as superstars and up-and-comers are treated equally—LeBron James (after Kobe's final game in Cleveland), Paul George (after the Mamba's last game in Indiana) and Devin Booker ("Be Legendary") all got ink.
The cold-blooded competitor of old wouldn't have done this. But with retirement approaching, Bryant has a different perspective:
It's great, because they know. During competition in previous years, there's no time for that. Now, it's different. You get a chance to talk and catch up and give some advice and things like that.