While fans, writers, and pundits disagreed on the topic of how many more seasons Kobe Bryant would ultimately play, the resounding answer from Kobe himself was that he didn’t have much left in the tank, and that it would be realistic for him to retire after his current contract (which ends at the end of the 2013-2014 season). However, he left room for change, as he suggested he could play beyond that.
Personally, I thought that if the 2014 season ended well (with a championship or close to one), he would re-sign for one last season–which would be his 19th–and go after another championship. He often noted not only the physical commitment, but the mental commitment as one reason why he didn’t believe he could keep up the intensity in his training and preparation for much longer.
However, after tearing his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2012-2013 season, I felt that as long as he was able to recover well enough to maintain an elite level of play that he’d for sure play one season beyond his current contract, at the very least; simply because he’d want a full season reinforced by an off-season dedicated to strength and conditioning as opposed to rehab.
Then, in April, Bryant indicated to ESPN Los Angeles’ Arash Markazi that he could play quite a few more seasons:
Kobe on retiring: “I could play another five years. That’s not to say I will.”
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 8, 2013
That was quite surprising to hear from Kobe, even though he stated he’s not saying it will happen.
But then, on a recent trip to Brazil, Kobe yet again hinted at something similar, this time with a different distinction, in an interview with Brazil TV:
“I can easily see myself playing another three or four years.”
This was what many Lakers fans had dreamed of; the Black Mamba playing out another few years and giving himself the chance at more championships.
Additionally, several indications point towards the belief that Kobe doesn’t just want ring number six, but rather ring number seven as well.
I believe the Achilles injury has actually fueled Bryant to set these extremely high goals, which is a testament of his greatness.
Rather than resign to the fact that he may never be the same player he was, he’s kept that possibility in the back of his mind and seemingly used it as fuel for what he plans to do in the future.
In fact, as Kobe sat down with Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters, he explained how the injury has “rejuvenated” him by putting in perspective just how precious being able to play is. Basically, his reasoning is that his career very well could’ve been over with that injury, so if he can prolong his career and play as long as possible, why not do it?
While I disagreed with Charles Barkley’s assessment that Bryant would be just “a good player. That’s it,” and argued that the type of will and determination in Kobe’s DNA coupled with the elite skill-set he possesses would enable him to maintain his elite status for the remainder of his career, the Black Mamba actually tasked himself with an even bigger challenge–conquer the Achilles injury, play three more seasons, and win two more championships.
Will he get two more rings? That’s yet to be seen, and will be extremely difficult.
Will he play three more seasons, or even one more season beyond his contract? That, on it’s own, is a huge challenge at 36 or 37 years of age and season number 19 or 20, respectively. If he were to play four more, he’d be 38 years old and on season number 21!
Will he even be able to come back strong enough from his Achilles injury to guard quicker, younger players and be a dominant force offensively? That, to date, it the biggest challenge facing Kobe Bryant.
However, although Bryant is by no means overlooking his injury and the grueling rehab process that comes with it, he’s done what few dare to do; which is add even more challenges for himself and ask of himself more than any fan, coach, or even critic could possibly think of.
If he retired today, he’d arguably go down as the greatest Laker of all time and easily one of the Top 5 players of all time.
But that’s not Kobe. He refuses to take the “easy” route, even though what’s easy for him is impossible for most.
So, whether or not it happens, one thing we can all be sure of is that in his mind, Kobe is up to the challenge of attempting to play at least three more seasons after conquering his Achilles injury and hopefully preventing any other serious ones.
Will it happen? Who knows, but here are a few keys to giving him the best chance at doing it.
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