Senior citizens, self-made billionaires, lottery winners – if people like that retire, you nod your head in approval. It just makes sense. Thirty-seven-year-olds don’t retire. They’re caring for families, they’re cultivating careers, they’re… just not old. Kobe Bryant isn’t old either, by any means. In fact, he looks identical to the 18-year-old Kobe.
Black Mamba or Black Magic?
However, when it comes to basketball, or any professional sport for that matter, 37 might as well be 77. Well, “77-year-old” Bryant took his final 50 shots of his illustrious NBA career last night and boy, were they spectacular. He made 22 of those shots but amid a couple air balls was the Bryant of old. The step-back jumpers, the impossible layups, and the improbable dunks. For one final night The Black Mamba put on a show. He looked young again, alive. Yet, as young as he may be, his career in the NBA is over. But he’s not the first star athlete to hang up his shoes recently.
Last year, Derek Jeter ended his career in high profile fashion, as did Peyton Manning. They each embarked on grand tours that highlighted their achievements, circulated SportsCenter, and grabbed the nation by the balls. Whether we liked it or not. They were 41 and 40, respectively. At this point in the sports world, they were ancient and they looked it. The way Manning played in his last year was hard to watch and many would even say the same of Bryant’s last season. They weren’t themselves anymore. As much as fans wanted to imagine the young, spry competitors of old, the proof was in the pudding.
The reality is, though, the fans aren’t the only ones watching. Fellow players and teammates see the toll that long careers take on their friends’ bodies and they take notice. With current hot topics like CTE taking up every conversation, how can you blame them? At the age of 30, issues like that shouldn’t be on their minds. So they have begun to take matters into their own hands. With hefty wallets, records, and awards a new breed of athlete has woken up and seen the truth. If they continue on their path of excellence and agony-filled excitement, then they’ve sealed their fates. Recently, players have begun ending their careers early in order to preserve their bodies, their minds, and their money. Football is an exceptionally taxing sport, so the ripe age of 31 makes sense. But just today, the Buffalo Bills’ Percy Harvin announced his retirement at age 27.
In general, athletes like Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions and Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks have paved the way in a new age of retirement. The perceived cap of a career has been cut down by 10 years in a matter of one.
In Bryant’s article on The Player’s Tribune, he wrote directly to the sport of basketball:
“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. “
Thirty-year-olds shouldn’t be stopping. No, they’re just getting started. They may be done with the game and all of its hardships but the bulk of their life and connection to the sport is ahead of them. Those wise enough realize that the end of their career isn’t the end at all, it’s just the beginning. Some athletes choose careers in broadcasting while others obtain coaching jobs. But the majority of retired athletes find something completely different. While their sport will always be a part of them, it’s not all-encompassing.
So it remains to be seen what Bryant plans on doing after retiring, but for now he’s narrowed it down to this: “I’ll continue to work out and I’ll continue to stay in good shape,” said Bryant. With more free time on his hands, Bryant said he’s interested in “skiing a little bit. I’ve never been skiing before. Maybe I’ll do a little surfing. Maybe a little skydiving.”
Whatever he decides, he’s earned it.
Photos courtesy of sportsnews.com and tvguide.com