A week ago, basketball all-time great Kobe Bryant unofficially announced that he would hang up his shoes after this NBA season. But he made the statement in a unique and heart-warming manner – through a poem he posted on The Players’ Tribune on November 29 called “Dear Basketball.”
The poem drew praises from not only the international basketball community but from various groups all over the globe, including notable poets. Bryant wrote the poem addressed to the sport that made him a global icon as if basketball were a person he dearly loved.
“From the momentI started rolling my dad’s tube socks. And shooting imaginary game-winning shotsin the Great Western ForumI knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.A love so deep I gave you my all —From my mind & bodyto my spirit & soul,” wrote Bryant.
Bryant hinted that the reason for calling it a day in the game he loves was that he could not physically compete anymore with the same greatness he had in most of his 20-year NBA career.
“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.And that’s OK.I’m ready to let you go. I want you to know now so we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have.”
Bryant, a 17-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring leader, has had injuries in the last few seasons that included knee fracture and feet, back and calf problems. It’s apparent this season that his usual jaw-dropping moves are now limited to pump fakes and long-distance shots. So far, he is shooting a career-low 31.5% and averaging at least ten points less of his 25.6 PPG career average.
Three days after he wrote the poem however, he dropped 31 points on the Washington Wizards to tow the Los Angeles Lakers to a 108-104 victory.
Bryant has always been known as a fierce competitor on the floor who always strives to win every single game. I remember fondly during the 2011 NBA lockout when Bryant led a team of NBA superstars in exhibition games here in Manila against a PBA selection squad and the Smart Gilas Pilipinas National Men’s Team at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. I was in Rajko Toroman’s coaching staff with Gilas at the time and we were gearing up for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. The visiting team was composed of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, James Harden, JaVale McGee, Derrick Williams, Tyreke Evans and Derek Fisher, with Bryant as playing coach.
It was a thrilling encounter with the NBA superstars leading by as many as 21 markers. But towards the final two minutes of the game, Gilas managed to trim the deficit to just six to the delight of about 20,000 plus fans. The NBA squad escaped with a 98-89 win. But when the Nationals threatened with a strong last-ditch stand, Kobe clearly took matters in his hands, posting up and scoring with his trademark fade away jumpers. He also huddled up his crew and told them to take the game seriously because Gilas meant business. Clearly, Bryant didn’t want to lose in the exhibition match. He led all scorers with 17 points. In a 131-105 triumph over the PBA Selection the previous day, Bryant was not as active as in the Gilas game.
After the game, he gladly exchanged pleasantries with the Gilas players, coaching staff and fans.
Today, Kobe is visibly trying to enjoy each of his remaining NBA games. Although still working hard to win, he smiles a lot and takes opportunities for short chats with his fellow superstars during the game. And wherever the Lakers play, every Kobe shot creates loud cheers from appreciative fans.
As Bryant bids adieu to the sport he loves, the whole world also prepares to part ways with one of the greatest and most spectacular players that ever lived.
So thank you Kobe Bryant. And thank you Basketball.