On Sunday, Kobe Bryant announced an end to his 20-year NBA career in a poem entitled "Dear Basketball," which was published in The Players' Tribune. In it, Bryant admits that his "obsessive" love for the game is no longer a part of him. He writes:
But I can't love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it's time to say goodbye.
That last line is most telling. One of the hardest working people to ever grace the NBA is still there mentally; but his 37-year-old body, having logged thousands of NBA miles, can no longer permit him to play the game as effectively as he did in his prime.
Bryant no longer appears to have his legs under him—basketball-speak for loss of strength in his lower body. He has always been wont to jack up crazy, twisting, no-way-in-hell-that's-going-in 3-pointers, and when they left his hand, you always felt like they had a chance to go in. This season, those same shots aren't coming close to hitting the rim.
The above shot, in a game against the Golden State Warriors, is not typical of Bryant. It's a flat shot, the ball largely lacking any arc. The moment it leaves Bryant's hand, you know it's an airball. Bryant knows it too, yelling "short!" as the ball leaves his hand.
Here's another example of Bryant's inability to summon the strength needed to get the ball to the rim from beyond the 3-point line. With the Lakers down three against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant receives the ball off an inbounds pass, takes a couple of dribbles and pulls up from a few feet beyond the arc for the tie. Was this shot incredibly difficult? Sure, but Bryant used to make these in his sleep when he was younger. Let us not forget the countless game-winners he hit during his illustrious career, many of them shots with a far greater level of difficulty.
This time the ball went sailing wide left of the hoop, and the Lakers walked off as losers.
Even wide-open 3-pointers have given Bryant trouble. Above, he sets his feet, squares his shoulders and still shoots an airball. He's just not getting enough lift from his legs, even when he has time to perfect his form.
Here's a similar shot in a game against the Denver Nuggets. Again, Bryant has time to set his feet, square his shoulders and launch one from beyond the arc. Again, the shot is way short. Perhaps the biggest issue with both of these shots is that Bryant thinks they're going in. Watch how he leaves his right hand up in the air, holding his shooting form after he lets go of the ball. He seem no longer to have a good feel for his body or shooting touch, which makes him all the more difficult to watch.
Finally, the above play against the New York Knicks shows Bryant's difficulty finishing closer to the hoop. As he snakes his way to the hoop, Knicks center Robin Lopez steps in front of him. Bryant once had no trouble finishing in traffic, but here he seems unsure what to do, ending up scooping an awkward underhand, lefty layup around Lopez. Airball! It's alarming to see Bryant unable to control his body and finish with his dominant hand.
Bryant has had an incredible career, and he'll leave the game with five championship rings, an MVP award and a legitimate claim as one of the greatest NBA players of all time. But as the video evidence show, it's time for him to walk away, because his body, particularly his legs, can no longer support the type of game he wants to play.
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