Expect Big Things Out Of Kobe's Bryant's Retirement

Nov 30, 2015

Kobe Bryant, who announced his retirement on Sunday via love poem to basketball on the Players' Tribune website, will indeed go down as one of the most divisive players in NBA history. Depending on where you sit, he's either one of the handful of great scorers and winners, or he's selfish and demeaning to his teammates. (Probably a bit of both?) Some people soured on him after he was arrested and charged with sexual assault in 2003, though that case was eventually dismissed. In spite of that scandal, he's still beloved the world over: at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, he was feted by his fans in China, as some kind of Beatles/Michael Jackson combo.

Seems everyone has an opinion about Bryant, which makes him one of the more compelling athletes of our time. Here's a safe bet: Bryant might be retiring from basketball, but he won't disappear.

That's either great news, or a pain, depending on your take on Bryant. He's a student of excellence: he once spent time asking Jackson how he approached making music, and applied Jackson's discipline to his own craft. He made a movie, Kobe Bryant's Muse, that came out earlier this year. While the film at times lapsed into predictable hagiography, it had its raw and engaging moments. By all accounts, Bryant tinkered with even the most minute details.

He's not the kind of guy who will just license his name to a steakhouse and not care about the food. Jordan, for example, retreated to the golf course for years. And though he eventually bought the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, he lays relatively low. Bryant's more curious. He hasn't played much golf — here's hoping he avoids that jock retirement cliche altogether. Part of him wishes he went to college. During his rookie year in Los Angeles, after he decided to skip college for the pros, he’d drive around the campus of UCLA, watching kids his age have fun, wondering if he was missing out and feeling bad about himself. He wants to learn.

Bryant could write a hell of a memoir. Phil Jackson has dished on Kobe in his books. Payback time. (And watch out, Shaq). He'd make a heck of a TV analyst. He's refreshingly honest, and has a photographic hoops memory. He'd make a good coach. He'd have to work on his patience with players, but Bryant would sweat the particulars and earn respect. If anything, Bryant has the strong voice all coaches need. Bryant will take a big swing at doing something meaningful, no matter what form it eventually takes.

His game looks shot: Bryant's airballs are now a SportsCenter staple, like his baseline fadeaways (swish!) once were. Though even if he keeps playing badly, and joins the long line of athletes who looked like a shell of themselves in their final year —Willie Mays, Muhammad Ali, Jerry Rice — that's quite alright. He on-court reputation has long been secured. One old-guy year gets a free pass.

Bryant's basketball is almost irrelevant. His next act will be far more impactful.

NEW YORK - JUNE 26: Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft on June 26, 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 26, 1996. He joined the NBA straight out of high school, and was immediately traded to the Lakers in a previously-agreed deal between the two teams.Andy Hayt—NBAE/Getty Images
NEW YORK - JUNE 26: Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft on June 26, 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)
INGLEWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 3: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers rebounds against the Minnesota Timberwolves in his first regular season game on November 3, 1996 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY - MAY 12: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers shows emotion during Game Five and Round Two of the 1997 NBA Western Conference Playoffs against the Utah Jazz on May 12, 1997 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan, (R) playing for the Eastern Conference, moves past Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant of the Western Division, in the second half of the NBA All-Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York February 8. The 19-year-old Bryant has been called "the next Jordan" for his flamboyant and awe-inspiring skills. SPORT NBA - RTRB795
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers holds the Larry O'Brian trophy as teammate Shaquille O'Neal (L) hold the MVP trophy after winning the NBA Championship against Indiana Pacers 19 June, 2000, after game six of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. The Lakers won the game 116-111 to take the NBA title 4-2 in the best-of-seven series. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 12: Kobe Bryant #8, Lindsey Hunter #10 and Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate their win over the New Jersey Nets in Game four of the 2002 NBA Finals on June 12, 2002 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Lakers won 113-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 2002 NBAE (Photo by: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MAY 18: Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to his teammate, Shaquille O'Neal #34, during game 1 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2002 NBA Playoffs against the Sacramento Kings at the Arco Arena, in Sacramento, California on May 18, 2002. The Lakers won, 106-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant (R) cries as he admits to adultery in front of his wife Vanessa, in response to today's news that Eagle County District Attorneys would press charges against him for one felony count of sexual assault, at a press conference in Los Angeles, July 18, 2003. Bryant was charged Friday with raping a 19-year-old hotel concierge at a Colorado mountain resort, in a case that has stunned fans and threatened to derail one of the most sensational careers in professional sports. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES) Pictures of the Year 2003 SEE ALSO GM1E5A10PK701 LN/SV/AA - RTRMJ78
Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (8) drive past Toronto Raptors' Jalen Rose, left, and Chris Both in the fourth quarter of a NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2006, in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Matt A. Brown)
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots over New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. Bryant had 61 points in the game as the Lakers won 126-117. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, raises the NBA championship trophy in front of a poster of himself on the Staples Center during a victory parade for the teams 16th NBA title, in downtown Los Angeles on Monday June 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Nov. 28, 2015 - KOBE BRYANT (24) looks to pass. The Portland Trailblazers hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Moda Center on November 28th, 2015. Photo by David Blair (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft
... VIEW MORE

Andy Hayt—NBAE/Getty Images
1 of 12
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.