While watching tonight's Pistons-Nets game, the upcoming schedule footnoted that the Lakers visit to Auburn Hills next weekend would be Kobe Bryant's last. It was widely rumored that this would likely be his last year, given his declining health and basketball abilities, but they had just been speculation. I noted to Eileen that retirement news must have come across the wire late this afternoon.
Now that I got to the den and my laptop, I see that he has announced that this will be it for him.
Kobe had the curse of being in Michael Jordan's shadow, of being one of the best two-guards in history, but not quite at the level of His Airness. If Jordan starts for the All-Time All-World Team, Kobe is in the training camp with Jerry West fighting for the backup spot, fighting off Dr. J sliding to the 2 to give LeBron and Larry Bird time at the 3.
A bit arrogant and driven, he was easy to cast as the heavy if you weren't a Laker fan, doubly so after a certain he-said-she-said case in Aspen. My mom has LeBron as her love-to-hate player, mine (on a lesser level) was Kobe. Very talented, respected for his ability and his near-psychotic drive to get better, but not overly likable.
With the Lakers knocked down to lottery-bait status the last few years, the Lakers aren't The Lakers for the moment and are more pitiful than feared. Now, Kobe will get the remaining three-quarters of the season to get those send-off gifts from the towns he visits, like Derek Jeter got last year.
Like Jeter, he spent his whole career with one team, a rarity in an era of free-agency and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately ruthlessness in the front office. That loyalty makes him a notch more likable.
On the upside, the Lakers will have cap space coming out their ears this summer, as the cap spikes to begin with and Kobe's huge contract kicks loose. The Busses will be in position to restock and complement a number of good young players who aren't ready to star yet but will be in short order.