LOS ANGELES — The confession lasted nearly half an hour, it came in three tongues, and there were no tears. His voice was matter-of-fact, his shoulders loose, and his vignettes were at the ready. After it was over, his wife, his two daughters, and a documentary film crew walked with him toward whatever comes next.
Staring down a room full of reporters, after a 4-of-20 shooting night in a 107–103 losing effort to the Pacers on Sunday, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant delivered the words that he has spent the past two decades, and especially the last three years, trying not to deliver.
“I just had to accept the fact that I don’t want to do this any more,” Bryant said, hours after formally announcing his retirement at the end of the 2015–16 season. “And I’m okay with that. … It takes a load off my shoulders. It was the right thing to do. … I really feel at peace with it.”
Bryant went on to take questions in English, Spanish and Italian, recalling conversations with Michael Jordan and Giorgio Armani, soaking in the physical pain of life as a professional athlete and reveling in the glory of a career that produced five NBA titles, an MVP award and 17 All–Star nods.
The future Hall of Famer insisted he is a “storyteller,” and his postgame press conference was a far better story than the one his Lakers, who fell to 2–14 Sunday, are writing. Whereas L.A.’s season has been confounding, frustrating and occasionally miserable, Bryant, now free of the secret he was refusing to tell himself, was precise, riveting, and immensely satisfying.
Here are 10 sides of Kobe Bryant, as told by Kobe Bryant.
Kobe the resolute
Bryant has long been known for his competitiveness and his drive. He spoke at various points about his efforts to keep himself in NBA shape and how he’s tried to fend off Father Time.
“I’ve worked so hard, and continue to work really, really hard, even though I played like s---. I’ve worked really, really hard to try not to play like crap, and I just do everything I possibly can, and I feel good about that.
“I weight train in the morning. I stretch three times a day. I’ll go home tonight and I’ll stretch again and ice bath again. I’ll get up in the morning and weight train again before the plane.
“I don’t quit. I keep pushing and pushing and pushing and see if I can figure this damn thing out. That’s who I am. I would never just capitulate to it.”
“I’ve learned that you’ve got to roll with things. You can’t resist it. You have to self–assess. I’m pretty brutal about self–assessment. Trying to get better, do whatever you can to get better. Then roll with whatever happens, continually pursuing improvement. I’m fine with that. I can look myself in the mirror, I’ve tried and tried and tried. I’ve worked extremely hard. I’m confident I’ve left no stone unturned.”
Kobe the masochist
Asked if his retirement announcement triggered feelings of sadness, Bryant flipped the question on its head, suggesting he derives pleasure in his struggles.
“No, beauty. There’s beauty in that. It’s going through the cycle, a natural progression of growth and maturation. There’s no sadness in that. I’ve had so many great times.
“I can see the beauty in not being able to blow past defenders any more. I can see the beauty in getting up in the morning and being in pain. I know all the hard work it took to get to this point. I’m not sad about it. I’m appreciative of it.”
Kobe the narrator
In a similar vein, Bryant argued that his defeats—he went 5–2 in the Finals during his career and has been through some lean years recently—only made his career more enjoyable and fulfilling.
“The struggles to get there, that completes the journey. If you just have championships, there’s no antagonist. There’s no up and down. It’s the ugly moments that create the beauty. Those are the moments I truly appreciate.”
He also explained his decision to announce his retirement in a poem entitled, “Dear Basketball,” in which he addresses the game directly.
“I’ve never actually spoken to the game. It’s always been fans or teammates or things of that nature. I’ve never actually told the game how I felt. Once I decided to write it from that perspective, the words just came in a matter of minutes.”
Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images
Kobe the nostalgic
But, prompted for his favorite “Kobe Moment,” Bryant chose the 1996 draft, his entry into the NBA.
“Nothing beats getting drafted. Nothing tops that. You dream about that moment. That’s the beginning of it all.”
Similarly, Bryant marveled at his long career with the Lakers and his standing alongside legends like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul–Jabbar.
“The fact that I’m compared with Magic and Cap, that’s like, ‘I’ve made it. That’s enough for me.’ I was a Laker diehard [as a kid]. That’s good enough for me. I’ve been extremely fortunate. How many kids growing up can play for their favorite team and spend their entire career there? It’s been a dream.”
Kobe the inquisitive
Bryant, who spent time as a child in Italy, recounted a conversation with fashion designer Giorgio Armani that helped him put his playing career into perspective.
“That’s a struggle for a lot of us athletes: to figure out what comes next. I was fortunate to ask those questions at a very early age, at 21–years–old. It’s tough. You get caught in the cycle of what’s the biggest market I can get into, how can I monetize this and that. Those are absolutely the wrong questions.
“When I was in Milan, I wanted to meet with Giorgio Armani and talk to him a little bit about how he built his business. He started building his business at the age of 40. I was 21. I said to myself, ‘I’ll probably play until 35 or 36. He built the whole business at 40. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? What comes next?’
“From that point on, I started figuring things out, trying different things, dabbling in this and that. It wasn’t as easy as basketball. I was born to play basketball. I had to really work to figure out what comes next. That’s really, really hard man. That’s what we have to do as athletes.”
Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images
Kobe the advice–seeker
Although the writing had been on the wall regarding the impending end of Bryant’s career, before Sunday he had only suggested that this would be his final season. Bryant said his plans to make a formal announcement this week were put into motion only a few days ago, but that he had been weighing his future for months.
One person he sought out for guidance when making the decision: Jordan.
“[Jordan] was actually one of the first people I told over the summer. We’ve been in frequent contact. [I told him], ‘This is it. How the hell did you know it was it for you?’ We had some laughs, went back and forth about it. The important thing for him was, ‘Just enjoy it. No matter what. Just enjoy it. Don’t let anybody take that away from you. No matter what happens. Good or bad. Enjoy it.’”
Open Floor Podcast: ESPN’s Baxter Holmes on Kobe and the Lakers
Kobe the idol
Many NBA players aren’t afraid to admit that Bryant is their favorite player, or someone they looked up to before they entered the league. Bryant pledged to keep in contact with players who want to pick his brain, and told a pair of funny stories about recent interactions with his opponents.
“The coolest thing is the messages I’ve received from other players. They say thank you for the inspiration and the lessons. Those are the things that mean the most to me.
“When we played Detroit, I was kind of zoned out. We had the captains meeting [before the game]. They allow two captains. I go up there, there’s Andre Drummond and another captain. There was another player up there I couldn’t see behind Andre Drummond.
“The official goes, ‘You can’t have three. You’re only allowed to have two.’ And he was like, ‘Oh no, I only wanted to shake his hand.’ I couldn’t see him, he was behind Drummond. I just saw his hand come around Andre and I shook it.
“In Portland, Dame Lillard [and C.J.] McCollum and those guys. James Harden, Kyrie Irving, [Kevin] Durant, I speak to [them]. They call me frequently with questions and things of that nature. That means more to me than anything else.
“I think we were playing Portland. A kid on the bench said something to me: ‘We’re going to beat you guys tonight.’ I said, I’ve got one rule: if you weren’t born when I started playing, you can’t talk trash. It’s a simple rule. He just looked, ‘Yes sir. Yes sir.’ No argument.”
Kobe the reluctant
One reason that Bryant had previously left his retirement up in the air: he didn’t want to be bombarded with tributes as he made his way around the league. Bryant said that remains the case, but he also wanted to be clear that his stance wasn’t meant as a snub to fans in other cities.
“[The idea of a farewell tour] is extremely uncomfortable. The amount of respect I have for the fans on the road, if anything, I should be thanking them. Just the show of mutual appreciation and respect is enough. I really can’t thank the fans enough. They’ve been such a motivator for me and a catalyst.”
Kobe the realist
Kobe the self-deprecating
At 37, Bryant is one of the NBA’s oldest players, and he’s regularly poked fun at himself for his old age this year. On Sunday, he took that one step further, suggesting that “old” no longer does him justice.
“I’m not ‘the old guy.’ I’m the triple OG. LeBron and them, they’re the old guys now. And I’m way older than them. They’re vets. I’m like a triple vet.”