There's so much more to do
Kobe Bryant has been talking a lot about retirement over the past couple of years. It makes sense. He's 34 years old, is in his 17th season in the league, and has one more year left on his contract after this season. It would totally make sense for Bryant to finish out his contract and retire in 2014.
I don't see it.
Before his injury Wednesday, Bryant had found the fountain of youth this season. Once he returns, there's no reason for him to cut his career short. He is playing arguably his most efficient basketball and is finishing dunks he hasn't even thought about trying since he was in his 20s.
There's no reason Bryant can't play three more seasons after this one and retire having played 20 NBA seasons, after being drafted as a 17-year-old out of high school in 1996. He can sign a two-year extension after next season and announce he will retire as a Laker in 2016; he would have played 10 seasons wearing No. 8 and 10 seasons wearing No. 24. When you look at old Bryant pictures, all you have to do is look at his jersey number to see what stage of his career he was in. If Bryant plays three more seasons after this season, he will have three more cracks at getting a sixth NBA title, which would tie him with Michael Jordan. He will likely pass Jordan on the all-time scoring list next season, and playing three more seasons would also put him in position to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Who knows, if Coach K decides to return to Team USA, Bryant could also finish his career by winning a third gold medal in the Olympics before retiring at the ripe old age of 37. Father Time may be undefeated, but Bryant is doing a better job than most at fending him off.
International hoops ambassador?
If there's one thing we've heard consistently this season, it is how hard Kobe Bryant works to maintain the elite level of play he's showed us this season. From his tweets about ice baths and physical therapy sessions to his comments about playing through pain and doing whatever it takes to win, Kobe has revealed more than ever just how much goes into to being Kobe Bryant.
I fully believe that if he desires, Kobe could keep playing at an elite level another three or four years. I don't fully believe he wants to keep doing what it will take to maintain that level of play. It is exhausting just reading about all the work he puts in. Kobe's been living that life for the last 17 years.
This year, he's talked frequently about his post-basketball life. From the admission that it's mentally and physically exhausting to prepare to play at this level, to his recent comments about having studied Michael Jordan's post-NBA career, Kobe seems to have been thinking deeply about finding something else to channel his competitive energy into.
Because of his personal history of having grown up in Italy, and because he's always been something of a trailblazer in terms of international marketing, I have this hunch Kobe has a David Beckham-style future ahead of him. I don't know what it'll look like or where it'll be, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he ended up taking his talents to China or Turkey or Europe for a two- or three-year stint when his NBA career is over.