Kobe Bryant says he knew from onset that 2015-16 would be final season

LOS ANGELES -- During meditation, Kobe Bryant said, his mind has "always, always" drifted toward basketball. But recently, that began to change for the longtime Los Angeles Lakers superstar. His mind wandered to the game only sometimes, not all the time.

"To me, that was the first indicator that this game is not something that I can obsess over for much longer," Bryant said Sunday when he announced that he'll retire at the end of the 2015-16 season, his 20th in the NBA, all of them with the Lakers.

While Lakers coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak said they learned of Bryant's plans only in the past day or so, the 37-year-old Bryant said he has known for "a while."

"I've always said, if anything changes, I'll change my mind. But the problem became, for me, what does that really mean?" Bryant said after the Lakers' 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers. "A decision like this, you can't make that decision based on outside circumstances. That's an internal decision.

"Finally, I just had to just accept the fact that I don't want to do this anymore, and I'm OK with that. Once I accepted that, then it became time to just let everybody know. I mean, why not? It just takes a load off my shoulders and everybody else's. It's just the right thing to do."

Bryant said he knew coming into the season that this would be his final campaign, but he said he has no plans to retire before the season's end.

"No, because there's so much beauty in the pain of this thing," Bryant said. "It sounds really weird to say that, but I appreciate the really, really tough times as much as I appreciate the great times. And it's important to go through that progression because that's when you learn about the self.

"There's nothing that I would love more than being able to play this entire season, to go through all of these tough times, to be able to suit up and play on the road and play in these buildings for the last time. I'm looking forward to that."

His next game will be one of his most special, as the Lakers will visit his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers, on Tuesday.

Bryant said he did speak to others for advice about retirement.

"I've talked to several players," he said. "I've been fortunate enough to actually be able to pick up the phone and call a lot of my muses and speak to them and kind of get their perspective on what they went through. But ultimately, it's a decision that I had to make. What do I feel? Do I want to play again or don't I? It's a very simple question, but it's a hard question when you look in the mirror to ask yourself. The reality is, no, I don't, so why belabor it?"

The hardest part of retiring? "It's tough to say now," Bryant said. "I think that question becomes a lot easier to answer when training camp comes around next year and I'm not there. I think that becomes a question that's a little bit easier to answer. But right now, I feel really at peace with it."

Bryant has struggled mightily throughout the season and did so again Sunday, when he scored 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting. He's averaging 15.7 points on a career-worst 31.5 percent shooting from the field, including 19.5 percent shooting from 3-point range.

"I've worked so hard and continue to work really, really hard -- even though I've played like s---. I've worked really hard to try not to play like crap," he said. "I just do everything I possibly can, and I feel good about that."

For as much as Bryant has struggled, he said he doesn't feel any sadness, even if his body continues to fail him.

"No, beauty. There's beauty in that," said Bryant, whose past three seasons have all been cut short by injury. "It's going through the cycle. It's the natural progression of growth and maturation. There's no sadness in that. I've had so many great times. I see the beauty in not being able to blow past defenders anymore. I see the beauty in getting up in the morning and being in pain, because I know all the hard work that it took to get to this point. I'm not sad about it. I'm very appreciative of what I've had."

Bryant has said that he doesn't want a farewell tour, but now he is assured one. Still, he said he doesn't expect to shed too many tears -- at least publicly.

"It's not going to happen on the court. It ain't going to happen there, man," he said. "But if I said I wasn't getting a little emotional about it, I'd be lying. It's a little different when you know internally that this is it and then you actually voice it and now it's out there. It's a certain level of finality to it that adds a little more.

"The coolest thing is the messages that I received from other players and they say 'Thank you for the inspiration.' 'Thank you for the lessons, for the mentality.' Those things are honestly the things that mean the most to me. To have respect from your peers, there's nothing in the world that can top that."

Bryant also spoke fondly of his place in Lakers history.

"The fact that I'm talked about in company with Magic [Johnson] and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar], I've made it," Bryant said. "That's enough for me. I was a Laker die-hard growing up. You know what I mean? That's good enough for me. I've just been extremely fortunate. How many kids can say growing up that when you turn pro, you're going to play for your favorite team in the world and spend your entire career there? It's been a dream."

His favorite moment of his career?

"Nothing beats getting drafted," he said. "Nothing tops that. You dream about that moment. That's the beginning of it all."

Bryant said his approach to the rest of the season won't change much: He'll still play as much as he can. And he said he still wants to work with the Lakers' young players.

"It starts with the aggressiveness and the killer mentality of trying to figure things out by any means necessary and then breaking things down into the most minute details, which is very hard to get conceptually," Bryant said. "But I continue to try to work with them and help them figure it out. It's not going to be the last season of doing that. I'll always be around for them and for other players around the league to help them out."

But Bryant said he's comfortable with his decision to leave the game.

"I've learned that you've got to roll with things," he said. "You can't resist things. You've got to self-assess, and I'm pretty brutal about self-assessment and then trying to get better and doing all you can to get better and then you roll with whatever happens, continually pursuing improvement. I'm fine with that.

"I can look in the mirror, man. I have tried and tried and tried and worked extremely hard since I was a young kid. That's why I feel extremely confident that I left no stone unturned."