NOT LONG AFTER he announced his plan to retire at the end of this season, on Nov. 29, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant requested that opposing teams not present him with gifts or hold pregame ceremonies when he makes his final appearance in their arenas. Maybe that's because Bryant has no interest in the assorted white elephants that athletes take home from their farewell tours. Among the going away bric-a-brac Yankees icon Derek Jeter received during his final season in 2014 were a pinstriped paddleboard from the Los Angeles Angels and a framed set of subway tiles forming his uniform number 2 from the Mets. Even a multimillionaire only has so much room in his attic for that stuff, and they're not the kind of items you can regift.
This is an article from the Dec. 21, 2015 issue
Still it's a shame that Bryant isn't interested in receiving the full farewell tour treatment, because although the presents can be silly, the sentiment expressed is not. The beauty of taking one last lap around the league is that it allows the athlete and the fans—the ones who cheered him and the ones who booed him—to say a proper goodbye, to express their appreciation of each other. In sports, as in life, we often don't know which farewell will be the final one.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has yet to publicly announce whether he'll play next season, when he'll be 40 years old, but with his age and recent history of neck and foot injuries, there is no guarantee he will be back to take a yearlong final bow. And Tiger Woods recently said he has no timetable for a return from his third back surgery. Will we get a chance to salute him before he slides into retirement? To be sure, farewell tours aren't always possible, so when a player decides to set a date for his departure, the awareness of his last days in uniform allows everyone the chance to savor them.
That's especially true on the road, where the athlete and opposing fans can finally call a brief truce and acknowledge that they enjoyed the battle. When longtime Mets-killer Chipper Jones played his final series in New York in 2012, the team presented him with a painting of Shea Stadium commemorating all the damage he had done there.
As with most things in professional sports, there is the danger of farewell tours becoming overly commercialized—the Yankees turned Jeter's last season into such a memorabilia-selling opportunity, it might as well have been sponsored by Sotheby's—but as long as the greed doesn't get out of hand, there's no reason not to keep the long goodbyes and slightly cheesy gifts coming.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has announced that next season will be his last. Here's hoping there will be a little goofiness to Big Papi's goodbyes. Maybe on his last trip to Kansas City the Royals will present him with a lifesized statue of himself made of pulled pork, or the Tigers will send him off with a giant popcorn machine (Big Poppy). Perhaps other luminaries will also give us a year's notice before they make their exits. That would give, say, the Bulls a chance to present longtime trash-talker Kevin Garnett with a case of soap to wash out his gloriously profane mouth.
The key to a successful farewell tour is to keep it lighthearted because saying goodbye night after night can be draining. It could be that the famously focused Bryant doesn't want to get teary-eyed before every road game. If that's the case, maybe all he needs is the one gift that should be included on every stop of every farewell tour—Kleenex.