Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant, left, drives to
the basket against Indiana Pacers forward Paul George
(13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game
in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015.
LOS ANGELES — After 20
years in a Lakers uniform and a lifetime in basketball, Kobe
Bryant determined that his aching body and his passion for
the game had both grown weaker than his excitement about the
That's when Kobe decided he
could only wait a few more months to begin his life after
Bryant announced Sunday that
he will retire after this season, ending a landmark 20-year
NBA career spent entirely with Los Angeles. He was serenaded
with cheers throughout the struggling Lakers' 107-103 loss
to Indiana, beginning his farewell tour through the league
with a clear mind and a burgeoning curiosity about his next
"I had to just accept
the fact that I don't want to do this anymore, and I'm OK
with that," the dry-eyed, smiling Bryant said after the
The 37-year-old Bryant made
the long-anticipated declaration in a post on The Players'
Tribune on Sunday, writing a poem titled "Dear
"My heart can take the
pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows
it's time to say goodbye," wrote Bryant, the
third-leading scorer in NBA history. "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."
When the Lakers hosted the
Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, fans expecting an
unremarkable regular-season game for the struggling home
team instead received a letter from Bryant in a black
envelope embossed with gold.
"What you've done for me
is far greater than anything I've done for you," Bryant
wrote. "I knew that each minute of each game I wore
purple and gold."
The theatricality of Bryant's
announcement fit a dramatic career that has included five
championship rings and 17 All-Star selections during two
decades with the Lakers, giving him the longest tenure with
one team in NBA history.
Bryant went straight from
high school in suburban Philadelphia to his favorite
childhood team in 1996. He became the top scorer in Lakers
history with offensive creativity and resourceful
athleticism that inspired the generation of fans and players
who missed Michael Jordan's peak, but grew up on the dynamic
exploits of the Lakers' latest superstar.
"Kobe was my
Jordan," said Southern California native Paul George,
who scored 39 points for Indiana to beat the Lakers after
Bryant missed a late 3-pointer to tie it. "Watching him
win championships when I was growing up, that's who I
idolized. That was the standard."
But Bryant's last three
seasons have ended early due to injuries, and he played in
only 41 games over the previous two years. He has struggled
mightily in the first 16 games of this season with mostly
young teammates on a rebuilding roster, making a
career-worst 32 percent of his shots and dealing with pain
and exhaustion every day.
Yet to Bryant, the current
state of his game is no tragedy.
"There's so much beauty
in the pain of this thing," Bryant said. "It
sounds really weird to say that, but I appreciate the
really, really tough times as much as I appreciate the great
times. It's important to go through that progression,
because I think that's where you really learn about the
In recent months, Bryant
repeatedly said he didn't know whether he would play another
season, clearly hoping for a rebound in his health and the
Neither has happened, and the
ever-impatient Bryant didn't wait any longer to decide his
"Kobe Bryant is one of
the greatest players in the history of our game," NBA
Commissioner Adam Silver said. "Whether competing in
the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty
gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game."
In a ritual likely to be
repeated in arenas for the next 4 1/2 months, Bryant warmed
up for Sunday's game amid even more than the usual swarm of
camera phones and flashes surrounding the court. Bryant then
missed his first six shots, including three 3-pointers. His
slump stretched to 2 for 17 before he hit two big shots
late, including a last-minute 3-pointer before his final
Bryant surprised Lakers coach
Byron Scott with his decision Saturday night. Scott,
Bryant's teammate during the 1996-97 season, thought the
star "had at least another year" in him.
Bryant disagreed, and he
decided to make it public after talking with Jordan and
"If I had a burning
desire to continue to play, I would," Bryant said.
"I wouldn't be second-guessing. I wouldn't be on the
fence. I feel very solid in my decision."
Even during his late-career
struggles with the foundering Lakers, Bryant's fans have
remained devoted to the 6-foot-6 star who won titles
alongside Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before
teaming with Pau Gasol for two more in 2009 and 2010. Only
13 players in league history played on more championship
teams than Bryant.
Even with the Lakers already
likely to miss the playoffs for the third straight season
— a first in franchise history — Bryant intends to keep
going. The Lakers start an eight-game road trip Tuesday in
Philadelphia, and he has already been saluted with cheers
this season in savvy cities like New York and Miami where
fans already realized it was probably his last stop.
"There's nothing I would
love more than to be able to play this entire season, to go
through all of these tough times, to be able to suit up and
play on the road in these buildings for the last time,"
Bryant is the NBA's
highest-paid player this season with a $25 million salary
bestowed on him by grateful Lakers owner Jim Buss despite
his recent injury problems, and he is keeping his vow never
to play for another franchise.
But Bryant's departure will
allow the Lakers to split with the past while embracing a
future with young prospects Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell
and Jordan Clarkson.
General manager Mitch Kupchak
has spent his entire career building rosters around Bryant,
but the executive acknowledged frustration with the Lakers'
incredible struggles in Bryant's final two seasons.
"Clearly we're not
playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe's age and
experience finds challenging, kind of like there's no light
at the end of the tunnel," said Kupchak, who didn't
learn of Bryant's decision until Sunday afternoon. "So
I'm not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I
think the game will be easier for him now. I think he'll be
able to enjoy the rest of the season."
Bryant struck a philosophical
tone in his first public comments since his decision,
referencing the peace of mind created by his decision. He
also spoke vaguely about plans for next year, but provided
hints such as describing himself as "a
storyteller" and explaining his conversations with
Giorgio Armani about the fashion designer's ability to build
a global brand after turning 40 years old.
None of Bryant's plans appear
to have much to do with basketball — although he allowed
that it would be "an honor" to play for his third
Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro next summer if he is
picked for the U.S. team.
"I don't want to get too
Zen-like," Bryant said. "But honestly, when I'm
sitting in meditation, my mind starts drifting, and it
always drifted toward basketball, always. And it doesn't do
that now. It does that sometimes. It doesn't do that all the
time, and to me, that was really the first indicator that
this game is not something I can obsess over for much