The haters of Kobe Bryant have resurfaced again and their message is clear – just retire already. As the president of the anti-Kobe club and the biased-Duncan club, I would love nothing more than for Kobe’s career to end in flames with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing, who just stuck around a bit too long mortalizing their immortalized careers.
Over the past two years, Kobe has suffered an Achilles injury, a knee injury, and most recently, he suffered a torn rotator cuff, which will most definitely sideline him for the rest of the season. That means for the past three years, Kobe has been in and out of the lineup and has missed more games than he has played. Clearly, the 36-year-old Kobe Bryant is not only breaking down, but he is completely broken. And he has been broken for the past three years. So, there are a plethora of reasons for Kobe to call it quits. This season, he finally passed Jordan for third all-time on the scoring list, which is something that he clearly wanted to do for pride and legacy reasons, and no one will ever be able to take that away from him.
Additionally, the Lakers franchise is a mess. Even if Kobe were healthy this season, they had no shot of winning the NBA Finals this year or even making it to the playoffs for that matter in the ultra competitive Western Conference. And for a competitor like Kobe Bryant, if there is no shot at winning a NBA Finals, than why even compete or play? Kobe’s intensity and competitive nature has always been to win a ring every season, not just make it to the playoffs.
Furthermore, with Kobe off the books, he would be doing the Lakers a big service in freeing up their salary cap space. If Kobe retired, the Lakers could sign two free agents for the max and pair them up with rookie Julius Randle who is recovering from an Achilles injury himself.
However, there are ten important reasons why Kobe Bryant should not prematurely retire, even with his potentially season ending injury.
You cannot become great without a little bit of pride. And Kobe has a lot of pride. The only reason why Kobe did not join the Los Angeles Clippers or the Washington Wizards after Shaq left the Lakers is because Shaq said that Kobe could not win a ring without him. That comment alone kept Kobe on the Lakers. He hated the fact that Shaq could hold him hostage with a comment like that. So, for the next few years, Kobe labored and labored, until he won a ring without the presence of Shaq, and when he finally did, he not only did it once, but twice.
When there are no new challenges to a job, it can get boring and trite quite quickly. However, with athletes, they are presented with a myriad of challenges all the time. For starters, their bodies are breaking down and slowing down, which means that they have to alter their games as they get older and older. It is no coincidence that big men drift away further and further from the basket and turn into pick-and-pop players rather than the pick-and-roll players that they used to be. Similarly, Kobe has some new challenges at this stage of his career – not only with his ailing body – something that he has already compensated for, but also with the new dynamics of his team. Kobe has another new coach that he has to get used to, in addition to a very young and ever changing roster that he has to mentor and establish chemistry with. A challenge? I think so.
This year, head coach Byron Scott foolishly ignored Kobe’s own recommendations to reduce his minutes. Instead, Scott took a page out of Pat Riley and drove Kobe to the ground. This year, Kobe was averaging 34.5 minutes per game, which is about three to four more minutes than Kobe wanted to play per game. But being the stubborn and proud player that Kobe is, he didn’t dispute his coach’s wishes. The result was practices that Kobe rarely attended, games he had to take off, and ultimately a season ending injury. If Byron Scott puts his old school behavior aside for the wisdom of Poppovich’s new school, where he monitors the minutes of his older players, Kobe could easily play an entire season and be much more efficient with his shot selection.
The Los Angeles Lakers owe Kobe Bryant everything for the past nineteen years, however, Kobe owes just as much to the Lakers for making Kobe Bryant who he is today. With that said, the Lakers franchise has taken a bit of a hit over the past few years, ever since the departure of Dwight Howard. After Shaq left, the Lakers were able to stay relevant with the addition of Pau Gasol and two more rings. However, there have been dark clouds over Los Angeles over the past few years, and if the Lakers are going to be the number one destination spot again, Kobe needs to play a part in making the Lakers relevant again, and in order to do that, he needs to stay healthy.
Even at the age of 36-years-old, Kobe Bryant is still as relevant as ever. Kobe was once again voted to the All-Star game as the starting shooting guard in the Western Conference. This was over James Harden, who is clearly the best shooting guard in the league. Kobe is still beloved and adored by NBA fans all over the world. Nobody wants to see Kobe retire, not fans, not players, and most of all, not himself. Kobe has not overstayed his welcome in the NBA, rather, nobody wants to see him leave.
As of right now, Kobe Bryant is third all-time in scoring. This year, he passed his idol Michael Jordan, but it is going to take at least two more years for Kobe to pass Karl Malone. Malone finished his career with 36,928 points. Kobe currently has 32,482 points under his belt. That means that Kobe is about 4,500 points away from Malone, which would take at least two seasons where Kobe plays in all 82 games and is averaging more than 25 points per game. This season, Kobe was only averaging 22.3 points per game, so he would need at least three season to pass Malone if he kept that pace.
Kobe’s life has been a basketball player ever since he could walk, so what happens when basketball is over? There are so many tragic stories of athletes who lose themselves because they’ve lost the only identity that they have ever known as basketball players. Kobe will soon face this challenge, which is why he should prolong his basketball career as long as possible. It's hard to see Kobe being a commentator on ESPN or TNT. He might be able to own a NBA franchise one day like of Michael Jordan, but something tells me that Kobe is going to just walk away, but to what?
Kobe has made almost $280 million in his career already, and he is scheduled to make another $25 million next year. He is the highest paid basketball player in the association today and if he wants to collect next year’s check, he cannot retire. Now, $25 million may not sound like much for someone that has already accumulated close to $280 million, which does not even include the endorsements that he has received over the years, which is probably much higher than $280 million. However, $25 million is still $25 million, so Kobe will have to suit up for at least one more game next year.
Do you think that Kobe isn’t keenly aware that Michael Jordan has one more ring than he does? Kobe has passed Michael Jordan on the scoring chart, but Kobe knows that rings are ultimately what people look at. Kobe may never pass Michael with seven rings, but he can certainly change the narrative of the Kobe vs. MJ dispute by at least tying Michael for the same amount of rings.
Would this mean a possible pay cut so they Lakers can surround him with talent? Yeah, but it's a potential reason for him to stay in the league.
It is not how you start, but it is the way you finish that people remember. There have been so many players that played a season or two too long for that extra paycheck and the burning image they leave behind to everyone is one of weakness and almost sympathy. And that is what the world is seeing with Kobe Bryant right now. The world sees a player that is not going out on his own terms, but by terms outside of his control, namely an aging body. Kobe needs to play, so that the basketball world will see a happy ending to the Kobe Bryant story instead of a tragic ending, which is what this season has sadly turned into.