Kobe Bryant. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant says he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 season, his 20th with the venerated franchise.

But just as Bryant’s famed career was often unusual, so too was the way he picked to announced his retirement: through a poem posted online.

Bryant — a 17-time National Basketball Association All-Star and the Lakers’ leading career scorer with more than 32,000 points — posted the poem on theplayerstribune.com, a website founded by retired New York Yankee baseball great Derek Jeter.

Bryant wrote:

“From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel
I only saw myself
Running out of one.

And so I ran.

I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.

You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.

I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.

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 handle the grind
But my body knows its time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.

I’m ready to let you go 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.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled-up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the game clock
Ball in my hands

5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always,

Bryant, 37, joined the Lakers in 1996 as a 17-year-old straight out of Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. He was drafted in the first round by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Lakers for center Vlade Divac.

The 6-foot-6 Bryant — son of former NBA and Italian professional league player Joe Bryant — was the first high school guard to be drafted by the NBA.

At age 18 years, 72 days, he became the youngest player to play in the NBA, a record since broken by Jermaine O’Neal and ex-teammate Andrew Bynum.

At 18 years, 158 days, Bryant was the youngest player in an NBA starting lineup. Also in his first season, 1996-97, Bryant became at 18 the youngest player to win the NBA’s All-Star weekend slam dunk contest.

In 2007, at 29 years, 122 days, Bryant became the youngest NBA player to reach 20,000 career points, since surpassed by another NBA legend, LeBron James.

In 2010, at 31 years, 151 days, he was the youngest player to score 25,000 points.

In 2012, at 34 years, 104 days, he was the youngest player to amass 30,00 NBA points.

He entered this season — in which the Lakers have 67 regular season games left — with 32,670 career points.

Bryant’s celebrated career has not been without controversy.

In 2003, he was accused of sexual assault by a hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado. In 2004, the prosecution dropped the case after the accuser chose not to testify. A civil suit was settled out of court.

A simmering feud between Bryant and star center Shaquille O’Neal — exacerbated by the Lakers’ loss in the 2004 NBA finals — led to O’Neal being traded to the Miami Heat and bringing significant criticism toward Bryant.

News of Bryant’s pending retirement was not a shock to some Southland sports media figures.

Veteran CBS2 sportscaster Jim Hill called Bryant’s announcement not a time for regret, but “a time for celebration” at what he accomplished in a Laker uniform. Hill said the time is right for Bryant to step down after two decades amid the glare of NBA stardom.

“Nobody beats Father Time,” Hill said.

Longtime Southland sports columnist and former radio host Doug Krikorian agreed that Bryant should call it quits.

“He should retire right now, because now he’s a parody of himself,” Krikorian said.

In his prime, Bryant put himself in the pantheon of NBA players, according to Krikorian.

“I think he’s the greatest Laker player, and one of the most dynamic players in NBA history,” Krikorian said. “He was incredible in his prime; a shot-maker at crunch time, one of the best bad-shot makers in history. He’s one of the best players who ever stepped on a basketball court. But now, he’s embarrassing himself.”

This season, Bryant is averaging 15.7 points, 3.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game as the Lakers have stumbled to a 2-13 record thus far, entering tonight’s home game against the Indiana Pacers. He is making slightly above 30 percent of his shots, just below 20 percent of his three-point shots.

Bryant’s career statistics show an average of 25.3 points, 4.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds a game. He has made 45 percent of his shots and 33.3 percent of his three-point shots, career-wise.

Laker head coach Byron Scott described shock and sadness as emotions he felt when Bryant — a former teammate — revealed his retirement plans.

“We talked about it last night,” Scott said. “I told him he kind of shocked me when he told me. It’s more sad than anything. I think it’s always hard when greatness like Kobe decides to hang it up.”

A positive aspect of Bryant’s announcement now is he will get a farewell tour across the NBA landscape with a large majority of the season left, according to Scott.

“You get a chance to go around to all these NBA cities and they can show their appreciation for what he’s been able to accomplish in this league,” Scott said.

— City News Service

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