17 years ago, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant needed his parents to co-sign his first NBA contract in the summer of 1996 because he was still a minor. This summer, he’ll be deciding whether he wants to sign off on his retirement or sign another contract after the 2013-14 season.
Bryant told NBA.com in an interview that he’d have his fate sealed before the start of training camp and maybe even earlier than that. One of his reasons for setting a timetable on such a momentous decision is to give the Lakers organization a chance to prepare for the future rather than keep them in limbo during the 2013-14 season.
He’ll still call on the assistance of his family, but not with signing the contracts.
“We’ll talk,” Bryant said. “I’ll talk to my family and stuff and really see if I want to continue to sacrifice as much as I’m sacrificing right now.”
There is little doubt that the 34-year-old Bryant can still play at a remarkable level. He is currently third in the league in points per game, averaging 27.1 on a 46.4 field goal percentage. That also makes him the oldest player out of all the top 10 scorers in the NBA.
Of all the top 20 scorers per game, only the 35-year-old Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce is longer in the tooth. Despite this, Bryant scores almost 10 more points per contest.
In a 103-98 win versus the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night, Bryant surpassed Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain to take sole possession of fourth place on the all-time scoring list. He needs 859 more points to pass who many NBA pundits feel is his closest comparable, Michael Jordan.
Nonetheless, scoring achievements take a back seat to Bryant’s quest for a sixth championship ring.
“I just want No. 6, man,” Bryant told ESPN. “I’m not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it.”
Still, there will come a time when Bryant’s physical capabilities will no longer stay in lockstep with his ring-chasing affinity. While his mind may think he still has unfinished business, his body might tell him otherwise.
“I’m putting my body through a lot to just try to get ready to play every single night,” said Bryant. “To do what I’m doing right now, it’s not easy. I’ll tell you, it’s taken a lot of commitment.”
Bryant has experienced a bevy of injuries during his career, including sprained ankles, knee problems, back issues, an arthritic finger, a torn wrist ligament and other physical maladies. Most recently, a visit with a foot specialist on Saturday confirmed that he’s ailing from a nagging bone spur.
The Lakers can’t afford an unhealthy Bryant, especially at a time when they’re chasing the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Los Angeles is already reeling from injuries to Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill.
Bryant will turn 35 in August and “Vino,” his self-dubbed moniker for aging well like wine, understands that his physical prowess will no longer allow him to pour it on the way he once did.
The Lakers are well aware that Bryant is still capable of being a productive player, but can they entice “Vino” from putting a permanent cork on his career following his last contractual season?
“No,” Bryant confirmed. “It’s my decision. It’s really about what I want to do, if I want to train and be psychotic with my training. That’s what it comes down to. It’s really how I’m feeling physically.”
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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