Kobe Bryant. Millions have heard of him, who he is, what he does, his achievements, how inspiring he can be. However, what a lot of people don’t know is what’s in store for him. Will he retire at the end of the 2015/16 NBA season? Will he keep pushing and working hard enough to be able to continue playing Basketball at the elite level everyone knows that he is capable of? Whatever his decision may be, let’s analyse the facts about him, his past, and possible prospects that he could face in the future.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar Bryant turned 37 years young in August, yet ‘young’ probably isn’t the correct term NBA players, coaches and teammates would associate with him. The veteran player has won 5 NBA championships, been NBA MVP in 2008, a 17-time all-star, 15-time member of the all-NBA Team and 12-time member of the all-Defensive team. He led the NBA in scoring time, and he ranks third on both the league’s all-time regular season scoring and all-time post scoring lists. Not only this, he has a unique record which exposes his true dedication: he has played his entire career with the Lakers, setting an NBA record for the most seasons with the same team. So, looking at this, we can definitely conclude that Bryant has had an extremely successful career. Yet recently, speculations have arisen about Kobe’s game, and what to expect next.
Coming into this season, ESPN.com ranked Bryant as the 93rd best player in the NBA before the 2015/16 season, but just three games into the season, Kobe has already criticised his own game, saying he ‘freaking sucks right now’ and is the ‘200th-best player in the NBA.’ This drew much media attention, as well as responses from other NBA players, including the debated best player in the world, LeBron James, who stated, ‘He knows he don’t suck. What I see is a challenge to himself. It has zero to do with his age, zero. I think at one point in my career, in my 20s, I felt like I sucked. It’s all a personal challenge. I know him. He knows he don’t suck. C’mon, man, it’s Kobe Bryant’.
Bryant’s 2nd NBA game of his career was held in Madison Square Garden, and in this game he scored his first ever NBA point at the free throw line. A lengthy 19 seasons later, on Sunday night, fans around the world may have witnessed the curtain finally fall on the story of a Laker legend, as Bryant may never possibly play again in MSG, home of the New York Knicks.
‘I was a talented overachiever. I worked my butt off every single day to make sure I left no stone unturned, and tried to push it as much as I possibly could.’ – Kobe Bryant, on his 20-year career.
If this really is Bryant’s final NBA season, then the game against the Knicks would be his last ever at MSG, an arena in which he made history, dominated and thrived, not forgetting his 61 point game in 2009. Due to Bryant returning after a turbulent few seasons in which he sustainined achilles, knee and shoulder injuries, Kobe has hinted that this could actually be his last ever NBA season. Shortly after the potential last MSG appearance, Carmelo Anthony, arguably the Knicks most prominent player, said ‘I wouldn’t count him out, but especially for young guys to be able to be in his presence, and knowing the mark that he left on this game, or that he’s leaving on this game, it’s a special moment’.
Whilst fans around the world appreciate that it is Bryant’s decision whether or not he wants to continue playing, he has been distributing mixed statements. Lakers coach Byron Scott asked Kobe Bryant recently how he wants to use his minutes this season, yet Bryant’s response was about next season, and that there might not be one.
Scott said that Bryant first told him this past Sunday that this could be his last season in the NBA. ‘We’ve talked about it a few days ago. Talked about it again and his feeling was, `Coach, this might be my last year. So if possible I would like to try to play every game,’’ Scott said. Yet Bryant himself was found telling reporters on Sunday that ‘My message has been consistent all the time. If I change my mind, I’ll come back and play. If I don’t, I won’t. I’ve been pretty consistent with that, so I don’t know how much, what else can I say?’
Even though his NBA career could be coming to a close, Bryant could potentially participate in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps realising that Kobe has basketball mortality, he has told the Associated Press in Miami that he would welcome a roster spot on Team USA. In theory, it could give Bryant a chance to end his career on a positive conclusion, as it appears the Lakers aren’t championship worthy at this current time.
Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball, revived the idea of bringing Bryant to the team USA roster in summer after speaking with him. Bryant missed the team USA mini-camp due to his injuries that he sustained over the past few seasons. Although, Colangelo indicated he would keep a spot warm for Bryant and told reporters, ‘He also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.’
So, there we have it. It appears that the fate of Kobe Bryant’s future in the NBA is still undecided and unclear. However, if the veteran still desires to prosper in the NBA, he will have to up his game, stay confident and focused, and not be beaten down by his own criticism. At the end of the day, this is Kobe Bryant, one of the most motivated competitors in sporting history, so whatever path he chooses, it probably will be the one he feels is right. But for now, let’s just appreciate the fact he still competes like he does, even if he doesn’t score 81 points a night. No matter what, he still has a massive playing legacy.