Kobe Bryant delighted in putting himself through as much pain as possible. Whatever it took to make him stronger.
He once got water-boarded just to see how it felt. He delighted in giving team employees the “Saw” horror movies, grinning while saying he could survive any of the grisly do-or-die propositions in them.
Ask anyone on the Lakers about Bryant. Pain tolerance ranks high on his most notable skill list.
He finally yielded to it Sunday, announcing his retirement after this season — 55,785 NBA minutes after it began as a 17-year-old whose last amateur game came against Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep.
“My body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” Bryant said on The Players’ Tribune website, to which he was an early investor and is an occasional contributor.
He seemed to lack the usual smoldering fire he carried on and off the court. Take, for example, a recent article in The Times that detailed his deteriorating play since sustaining a torn Achilles’ tendon toward the end of the 2012-13 season.
A negative piece of that scope would have set off Bryant angrily in past years. He would scowl at the reporter, maybe offer some derisive words off to the side.
This time, he offered a playful tap on the back for one of the writers when Bryant saw him for the first time after the article.
That was Saturday, before Bryant scored a seemingly solid 21 points against Portland, though it came on tired seven-for-20 shooting in a 108-96 Lakers loss. Afterward, he sat at his locker and expounded about the toll of two decades of NBA work on the human body.
“It’s tough. 20 years. Legs aren’t what they used to be,” he said. “You just continue to fight through it. . . .”
With the retirement news now on the table and the Lakers playing Tuesday in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown, you have to wonder if the gift-wrapped rocking chairs and other tokens of appreciation will start being presented by teams around the league.
The Lakers started their homage to Bryant on the scoreboard during a timeout in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. The Staples Center scoreboard showed highlights of Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Pacers.
Lakers fans grew steadily louder as they watched him scoring eight points in overtime to help the Lakers win that game and, ultimately, his first championship with the franchise. Four more would be added, most recently in 2010 against the hated Boston Celtics.
These days, Bryant jokes about not being able to walk to his car after games at Staples Center. Or maybe he isn’t joking.
He’s not sad about walking away. This he promises.
“There’s no sadness . . . I had so many great times,” he said Sunday at a postgame news conference.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley was one of many NBA observers who thought Bryant should retire, telling The Times last week, “Oh, yeah, this definitely should be it.”
Bryant’s game reflects it.
“It’s not the way he wanted to go out, obviously, but he doesn’t want to play for anybody else,” said longtime Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti, who knew Bryant better than anyone within the franchise. “He started here and he wanted to finish here.”
Mementos have already been created. Embossed copies of a letter from Bryant to fans were handed out to ticket holders at Sunday’s game.
Toward the top, the letter said, “Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t,” an acknowledgment of his often polarizing persona. Near the end, it said, “Thank you for this incredible journey.”
It was sealed in a black envelope with a gold “KB 20" adhesive.
Lakers fan Steven Ayala, 33, said he wouldn’t dare open it until Bryant’s final game.
Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, left, guards Lakers star Kobe Bryant during the 1998 NBA All-Star Game.(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, right, speaks with Coach Phil Jackson in 2010.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers teammates Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, right, celebrate in the closing seconds of the team’s NBA Championship win over the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant share a laugh before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on Nov. 9, 2010.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, left, speaks with Coach Byron Scott during a game against the San Antonio Spurs last December.(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers during a game at Staples Center on Jan. 13, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers star Kobe Bryant, left, poses for photos with FC Barcelona captain Andrés Iniesta Luján before a training session at the StubHub Stadium in Carson on July 20, 2015.(Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant poses for a photo at the Beverly Hills Hilton on July 18, 2014. Bryant was limited to 35 games during the 2014-15 season because of injury.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fields questions from reporters surrounding him during the Lakers’ media day in El Segundo.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fields questions from television reporters during the Lakers’ media day in El Segundo.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is surrounded by reporters while doing a radio interview during the Lakers’ media day in El Segundo.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Kobe Bryant tries to steal the ball from Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried during a game at Staples Center on Nov. 3.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
“It makes it more special,” he said.
When Bryant was introduced before the game, hundreds and hundreds of tiny cellphone cameras flashed to try to capture the moment, even from the upper reaches of Section 310.
A bit before that, he burst out of the locker room and onto the court near the end of a line of teammates. Only veterans Nick Young and Brandon Bass were behind him.
There won’t be too many more grand entrances for Bryant. The Lakers (2-14) are off to their worst start since 1957 and almost surely will be done April 13, the last day of the regular season.
There will not be a Lakers championship parade next June, and you wonder how much Bryant will reflect on his long-desired goal to at least match the six titles won by Michael Jordan.
He didn’t get there. One shy. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Times staff writers Melissa Rohlin and Broderick Turner contributed to this report.
MORE ON KOBE BRYANT