Kobe Bryant, who appears on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week, knows the end of his basketball career is near. After 18 years in the NBA and 45,567 regular-season minutes played (only 177 of those came last season after he missed 76 games because of a knee injury), he knows he's up against an undefeated opponent: Father Time.
But one thing’s for certain: Bryant isn’t trying to be a part of a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour whenever he decides to hang up his sneakers.
“If you booed me for 18, 19 years, boo me for the 20th. That’s the game, man,” Bryant said.
The Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs for only the sixth time in the franchise’s history in 2013 and are amid a litany of turnover, ushering out Pau Gasol and bringing in Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and first-round draft pick Julius Randle.
As for Bryant? He isn't going anywhere, especially with a two-year, $48.5 million contract on the books.
SI senior writer Chris Ballard followed Bryant around while the NBA star toured China earlier this summer and Bryant had fun entertaining the mobs of fans that came to see him.
He is venturing into business, forming Kobe, Inc., last year and takes an anecdote from the late Michael Jackson in trying to measure his success. Jackson was determined to have the best selling album all of time and listened to the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which held the record by the time 1982’s Thriller” came out.
“I f------ love that story,” Bryant said in his unending determination of being the best of all time. Thriller now holds that record.
With five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP awards, a regular-season MVP, 16 All-Star selections and being named to the All-NBA first team 11 times, there isn’t more left for Bryant to accomplish.
Or is there? Proving the critics wrong seems to be at the top of the list.
“So when I hear pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right. I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before,” Bryant said.
For more on Bryant, check out Chris Ballard's piece in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).
2014 Sports Illustrated Covers