Kobe Bryant gave the internet a scare yesterday when he hinted at a "special announcement" on his Facebook page. Commenters and Twitter both exploded with speculation, ranging from Kobe changing his jersey number to him leaving the Lakers to retiring altogether.
Of course, it turned out to be a calculated ploy to get people to watch a weird award ceremony. The announcement was that Kobe will do a charity interview later this summer, and blah blah blah people stopped caring as soon as it turned out he was coming back.
With a long injury rehab in front of him and a team in flux, it DOES seem like a good time for Kobe to cut-and-run. Despite his late-career clarity and honesty, and his overtures about retiring next year, or the year after, or however he feels that particular day, I have a feeling they'll have to drag Kobe off the court once he's done.
NBA players are like baseball players in the sense that their skills fade, they don't vanish. A Jason Giambi is still chugging along at age 42 because he can unload on a home run every once in a while, and every time he does he tricks himself into thinking he can still compete against guys 20 years younger than him. Kobe can't elevate like he used to, but he shows flashes of his wicked athleticism and can still knock down a jump shot with the best of them. He has changed and adapted his game to suit his weakening body and his sharpening mind, and with his competitive streak he will not walk away as long as he can hoist a jumper and watch it fall through the basket.
But what if he did retire yesterday? How do you judge a guy who has the fiercest fans and most ardent critics in professional sports? How do you compare a guy who has had essentially three separate careers against his peers like LeBron James, and his forefathers like Michael Jordan?
Well, there are a few ways to try.