There are many ways to retire as a professional athlete and superstar. Kareem had the original 'farewell tour' with the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to follow. Some, like Joe Montana, move on from their signature team to another team, and the fanfare is less when they call it quits. Some, like Brett Favre, say they are going to retire and then don't, and then no one cares as much anymore when they finally do. Many, don't want to retire, plan to start the season., and then just can't due to various injuries. Then there's Kobe Bean Bryant. He may not be scoring a lot of points for the Lakers these days, but you have to give him points for originality. He wrote a poem and posted it on a website.
The poem, eight short stanzas with words that don't have to rhyme to send the message, tells the brief story of a six year-old boy that fell in love the game but now knows that it's time to give it up.
“And that's OK”, it says in the penultimate paragraph, “I'm ready to let you go. I want you to know now so we can both savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have.”
The poem, titled “Dear Basketball”, was published on a website called The Players Tribune, which has been used as a method of expression for athletes to circumvent the media, which isn't necessarily a bad idea. Bryant, who is in his 20th NBA season but is only 37, is not playing well this year. He is shooting a career-worst 30.5 percent from the field, and is averaging 15.5 points per game—almost ten points lower than his career average. Just this weekend, before the announcement, fans and pundits were saying he was washed up, and should walk away.
But with the release of the pro's prose, there immediately became a more reverent tone. Columnists are reflecting on his career. ESPN.com's story on Bryant's retirement mentions the five NBA championships, a league MVP award, 17 All-Star selections, two Olympic gold medals and over 32,000 points, but nothing of his sexual assault allegations that he faced in 2003. We'll never know what really happened in that Colorado hotel room, but Bryant did admit consensual sex with the woman while being married at the time. Bryant was a pariah for awhile, lost some endorsements, but stayed with his wife, and most people eventually either forgave, forgot, or didn't think it was that big of a deal in the first place.
With still about three-quarters of the season remaining, there is still time for some sort of a Kobe farewell tour. While he may not be getting sailboats or wood carvings like Kareem did, he'll probably get cheered in places that usually boo him. Bryant is from Philadelphia, and as ESPN points out, maybe it's not coincidence that the Lakers are at the 76ers tomorrow night. They've been to New York and Miami already, but are at Boston December 30 and at Chicago February 21. In somewhat of a bizarre bit of scheduling (the Lakers play only three road games in March), Kobe's final appearance in Sacramento will be January 7, and in Oakland it will be a week later. The Lakers are 2-14, so you can put away those potential playoff storylines.
Kobe was Kobe. He was often selfish, but he was still the guy you wanted to have the ball to make a last-second shot. Modesty has never really been his strong suit, but it hasn't been as bad as Michael Jordan's lack of it in JOrdan's Hall of Fame induction either. He and teammate Shaquille O'Neal had a feud, but current players like Kevin Durant idolized him. He scored 81 points in a game—second most all time, but is one of just four players with 25000 points, 6000 rebounds, and 6000 assists in his career (Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, LeBron James). His Laker team is 2-14, but it's the only team he's ever known, becoming the first in NBA history to play 20 seasons with the same team.
“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream and I'll always love you for it. But I can't love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can take the grind. But my body knows it's time to say goodbye.”
Better than some lame old press conference any day.
Warrior Watch: I haven't watched a bounce of an NBA ball all year, but maybe another reason to get back to the tube is the Golden State Warriors. Old news, I know. They won the championship last year, I get it. But they are 19-0 this year—the best start in league history. Game number 20 is Wednesday at Charlotte. If they stay undefeated through the calendar year, they could break the league record of 33 straight wins (Lakers 1971-72) on January 4 at home against Charlotte. Something to shoot for.
Beat UCLA, get a job: The USC Trojans did something on Saturday that they had not done in four years. They beat the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins in a football game. Less than 48 hours after that 40-21 victory, USC removed the 'interim' from coach Clay Helton's title and made him permanent head coach. The players had been clamoring for Helton's full time hiring not long after he replaced Steve Sarkisian, who was dismissed for improper conduct (reportedly drinking issues). While USC granted their players' wish this time, they didn't in 2013 when the popular Ed Orgeron, who was an interim coach after the firing/resignation of Lane Kiffin, lost to the Bruins. USC decided to go with Sarkisian instead. UCLA coach Jim Mora is right. The Bruins still own LA.
Baseball buzz: The first mega-free agent has signed, with pitcher Jordan Zimmermann inking a five-year, reportedly 110-million dollar deal with Detroit. The right hander would have been a good fit for the Dodgers, younger and cheaper than Zack Greinke, but Zimmermann is from Wisconsin, and apparently wanted to pitch close to home. The Dodgers are reportedly still interested in Greinke, who is asking for about 30 million dollars a year... ESPN is reporting the Miami Marlins are close to a deal to make Barry Bonds one of their hitting coaches. Maybe Manager Don Mattingly loves steroid using legend-turned-disgraces as hitting coaches—Mark McGwire in Los Angeles and Bonds in Miami... Bad news for Dodger and baseball fans hoping that Vin Scully would broadcast beyond next season. Scully had announced that 2016 would “likely” be his last, giving us hope, but told Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times over the weekend that he “can't imagine” a scenario that would bring him back beyond next year. We can still hope.
Sign of 'The Times': While in the Los Angeles area for the holiday, I read LA Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre's last column. It was a great story of a young reporter making his way in the world of journalism, but that wasn't really the point. Dwyre pointed out that he was one of about 80 employees at the paper who was offered and accepted a buyout, and early retirement. Buyout sounds better than layoffs, but it was the newspaper's way of scaling wayyy back. Too bad.