Kobe Bryant says he will retire at end of season
Updated: 2015-11-30 10:36
But Bryant's departure will allow the Lakers to finish straddling the past and the future, with young prospects Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson taking on leading roles rather than deferring to their superstar teammate.
Bryant repeatedly declared that he didn't want a farewell tour in the style of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Derek Jeter, his friend and The Players' Tribune founder. Yet the Lakers' eight-game road trip beginning next week is almost certain to begin a prolonged goodbye to Bryant, one of the NBA's most popular and most divisive players.
"It's tough to see one of the absolute greatest competitors go through this," Miami guard Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press on Sunday, prior to Bryant making his announcement. "You can put a team around a guy to help a guy, especially late in his career. They're just not in position right now to do that. He's won five championships, so no one feels bad for him from that standpoint. But from a standpoint of seeing one of this era's greatest players go out in a rebuilding process, it's tough."
Bryant already has received long ovations on road trips this season, particularly in places like New York and Miami where crowds sensed that they might be seeing him as an opponent for the final time.
The Lakers' next road game is in Philadelphia - perhaps not coincidentally, given the otherwise strange timing of Bryant's announcement.
"Philly is where I grew up," Bryant told AP in an interview in Miami earlier this month. "It's always a different emotion there than anywhere else."
Bryant was the first guard ever to be drafted directly out of high school, taken 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Lakers. Although he won the dunk contest at All-Star weekend as a rookie, his Lakers didn't become title contenders until coach Phil Jackson arrived in 1999 and built a three-time champion around Kobe and Shaq.
Bryant made a fourth NBA Finals appearance in 2004 despite his preseason arrest for sexual assault and subsequent legal proceedings that sometimes required him to fly from Colorado to Los Angeles on game days. The assault case against Bryant was dropped in September 2004, but his behavior affected his reputation.
Bryant scored 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006, the second highest-scoring performance in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.