Kobe Bryant’s time
KOBE BRYANT will go down in history as the best player of his basketball era. The numbers that he accumulated throughout his career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers do not pay him sufficient homage. He is more than the championship trophies, the MVP awards, the statistics, the jerseys, the arena seats sold, and the fans collected.
He was a competitor down to his very core. His single-minded quest for basketball perfection was both insane and inspiring. He was born in blue-collar Philadelphia, and the beauty in his drive to be the best was in his understanding that there was a summit he could never reach, and his refusal to believe that there was no way to reach it. It was that same paradoxical belief that led Da Vinci to create masterpieces that have aced the test of time.
Kobe’s art will live for ages, too, in generation after generation of basketball fans, through YouTube videos and sports literature.
In his quest to Be Like Mike, he was both the person who came closest to inheriting Michael Jordan’s throne as The Best Ever, and the person who created a legacy separate from the Air Jordan legend.
The basketball landscape will forever be changed now that Kobe has announced, rather eloquently via moving poetry on The Players’ Tribune website, that this is his final season. For most of us, it felt like he would go on forever, just as a lot of us thought that Jordan was endless, that Magic’s show time would play on nightly, and that Larry Legend would burn incessantly.
But all things, even sports heroes, wind down to the inevitable curtain call.
Mostly, however, the world of sports is littered with sad stories of titans who pushed their glory way past their prime, so that fans were allowed a glimpse of a sorry version of their hero. One more game. One more season. One more moment under the spotlight. The mind, so fearful of a future without the flashbulbs and the fans, refuses to hear the body’s plea. Enough. We’ve had our run. Let’s call it a day.
Kobe Bryant stopped to let his mind process what his body had been trying to say. In the two previous seasons, he missed several games to injuries associated with the wear-and-tear of the quest for basketball perfection. All those hours in the weights room, in the practice court, on nationally televised games: They weaken the knees. They bruise elbows and shoulders. They tear Achilles tendons.
Kobe’s mind understood everything Kobe’s body was trying to say. And in an ode to basketball that was both a farewell to the game and an expression of gratitude for what it has provided him, he added to his legend, ironically, by announcing the end of a career:
“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.”
It’s one of the hardest things for a professional athlete to do: leaving a career at the perfect time. And we hope that when his time comes—if it hasn’t yet—Manny Pacquiao will also learn to say it’s over. The Philippines’ National Fist, winner of an unprecedented eight weight class crowns, has hinted that the end credits are about to roll on his boxing career.
We hope it’s true, that next year’s pencilled bout will be his last.
Boxing is a crueler, more unforgiving landlord than basketball. The rent athletes pay for their temporary stay in its spotlight is debilitating. And there’s nothing more pitiful than to watch a past-his-prime slugger trying wildly to justify one more match, one more round.
We want Manny Pacquiao to have full command of his senses when he lives the rest of his life enjoying the fruits of the brutal battles in the ring. Already, his body is sending signals to his mind. He is not as quick, and the power in his fists is no longer as devastating. He may have one last fight in him; he should recognize it when it comes.
And when it does, he should walk away from the game the way Kobe is walking away from his.
After all, both Kobe and the Pacman have spent years mastering their craft. Each has built the persona of greatness. The only way for them to appreciate their legend is to view it from a distance—away from the limelight, away from the adulation, away from the game.
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