It was only seven years ago, and yet it seems so far away… On November 29, 2015, the late Kobe Bryant published a basketball love letter that he published on The Players’ Tribune website and which he poses on every seat in the Staples Center inside a pretty black envelope. It’s a real poem in which the number 24 of the Lakers announces that he will retire at the end of this season.
“You gave a six-year-old kid his dream of playing for the Lakers.
And I will always love you for that.
But I can’t obsessively love you much longer.
This season is the last I can offer you.
My heart can take the shock
My mind can take the fight
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
Caught up by time
That night, the Lakers chained a sixth straight loss, but it’s anecdotal. All the microphones are stretched towards Kobe Bryant to hear and listen to his explanations for this poem, and this choice to leave the stage. DNA of Sports was there, in the front row.
” The final process of the decision was done more or less in 72 hours, between the announcement to the team, to the coach, the letter written to the fans and the one announcing my decision. I wanted to address the game, I had never done it and it was a stimulating exercise” he says, a smile on his face. “I had never told basketball how much I love it. It’s the decision of my heart, I didn’t want to wait any longer to announce it. You can’t make such a decision based on external circumstances, it has to be a personal decision. I had to accept the fact that I didn’t want to do all this anymore, but the decision had been made for a while. I had to answer a simple question: ‘Do you want to continue all this?’ The answer is no’. I’m at peace with myself ’cause I gave it my all, there’s nothing more I could have done. »
At the time, the Lakers were at rock bottom, and Kobe Bryant had been battling injuries since rupturing an Achilles tendon. He thought he was stronger than time, but his body has the last word.
” I worked so hard to come back and I continue to work like crazy to stop playing badly and go after myself. I stretch three times a day and I will do it again tonight and tomorrow morning before I fly, I put ice on, I really do everything I can. And yet I play like shit. I’m really doing my best so it’s easier to feel good about my decision. I don’t feel any sadness. It’s a natural cycle. I’ve had so many amazing times and I appreciate the pain when I get up because it reminds me of everything I’ve done to get here. I am very grateful for what I have. You could say I feel a bit relieved. But I’ll keep pushing my limits to do my best. »
A farewell tour validated by Michael Jordan
If the official announcement therefore took place on November 29, 2015, the Lakers star had put a few people in the confidence, and not the least: Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan.
” I spoke about it with Phil Jackson and he advised me to divide the season into several parts, I will take game after game, continuing to give the best, to help, to teach other players. I knew before the start of the training camp that the time had come. There was still a “but” and we can say that it was to see what it was going to give this season. The inner fire is no longer the same and I really feel comfortable with my decision. I began to realize that my basketball obsession was different during a meditation session. I have not considered stopping now, I want to go to the end of this season. There is so much beauty in this suffering. I know it must sound weird, but I appreciate the beauty of hard times as much as happy times. It is in this progression that I learn the most about myself. The finals we lost and the difficulties we went through complete the journey. I talked about my decision with Michael Jordan this summer, he was one of the first to know. He really told me to enjoy it, to savor it, in good or bad times. Being able to play in all of its rooms for one last time will be great. I look forward. »
The poem becomes an Oscar-winning cartoon
We are in 2015, and when a journalist asks him what he plans to do next, Kobe Bryant is already talking about creation. ” When I was 21, I had the chance to have a discussion with Giorgio Armani. Out of curiosity I started asking him about his business. He told me he started at 40. There, I said to myself “I will probably play until I am 35, but after that, what am I going to do with my life? “. It took me fifteen years to find the answers: storytelling. That’s what I love. On the set of the documentary, I really realized that there was a flame in me to educate by being creative, to put the pieces of a puzzle together and tell stories that inspire. »
A year later, the poem became a cartoon, “Dear Basketball”, and he surrounded himself with illustrator Glen Keane and musician John Williams to win the Oscar for best animated short film in 2018. It will be his last reward, and for him, ” it was even better than an NBA title. »