Bryant, 37 and plagued by injuries for the last five years, says he will retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season. But not before he unleashes his inner Wordsworth.
His farewell poem, addressed to "Dear Basketball," may be the sweetest Dear John letter any sport has ever received.
From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.
A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.
I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
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.
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.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1
Love you always,
"You don't have an opportunity to be around greatness very often," said Phoenix Suns guard Ronnie Price, who played with Bryant last season. "A guy that's a legend... that'll go down in history as arguably one of the better players to ever touch a basketball."
Bryant joined the NBA in 1996, straight out of high school. He has spent nearly 20 years in the league, playing with the Los Angeles Lakers his entire career.
This story has been updated.