The realization came while Kobe Bryant was meditating.
“I don’t want to get too Zen-like on you guys, but honestly, sitting in meditation for me, my mind starts drifting,” Bryant said Sunday. “It always drifted toward basketball, always, always. It doesn’t do that anymore. ... That was one of the first indicators that this game isn’t something I can obsess over for much longer.”
Bryant announced Sunday in an essay for the Players’ Tribune that this would be his final season in the NBA. In many ways, the essay read like a painful breakup letter to someone he loves with all his heart.
“Once I decided I want to speak to the game itself, which sounds really weird, but I’ve never actually spoken to the game,” he said. “It’s always been to the fans, or to teammates, things of that nature. I never actually told the game how I felt. Once I decided to write it from that perspective, the words just came in a matter of minutes.”
He said he’s at peace with his decision and is ready to move on.
“There’s no sadness in that,” he said. “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 of the hard work that it took to get to this point.”
Bryant said when he told his family that he was going to retire, they were a bit torn.
“They understand the concept that this is something that I’ve been doing since I was 3,” he said. “This is my entire life. ... It’s like, ‘Dad’s losing that passion now. He’s not going to be able to do that same thing he’s done forever.’ But at the same time, I’ll be around a lot more. So they’re excited about that.”
Bryant said having a farewell tour is an uncomfortable thing for him because he feels as though he’s the one who should be thanking the fans, not the other way around. When asked if he thinks he will get emotional at one point, Bryant didn’t hesitate in his response.
“It’s not going to happen on the court,” he said, laughing. “Ain’t going to happen there, man. But if I said I wasn’t getting a little emotional about it, I’d be lying. It’s a little different internally than when you actually voice it. Now it’s out there. There’s a certain level of finality to it that adds a little more. The coolest thing is the blessings that I’ve received from other players — they say thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the lessons, the mentality. Those things honestly mean the most to me. That respect from my peers, there’s nothing in the world that can top that.”
When Bryant was asked how he thinks he will be remembered by his peers, he recalled a moment before a game in Detroit when the teams’ captains were called to talk to the referees. He said an extra player snuck over there. The referees told the guy to leave, but the player insisted on doing something first.
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)
“I just wanted to shake his hand,” Bryant recalled the player saying about him. “I couldn’t see him, he was behind Andre Drummond. I just saw the hand come from around Andre, and I shook it.”
It’s hard for any fan to pick their favorite Bryant moment. There was the 81-point game in 2006. There was the time Bryant scored 62 points through three quarters in 2005. There were the five NBA championships. There was the time when Matt Barnes pretended to throw the ball at Bryant’s face, and Bryant didn’t flinch.
“Nothing beats getting drafted,” Bryant said. “Nothing tops that. That’s the beginning of it all.”
Bryant said before he decided to retire, he had something very important to sort through.
“I was born to play basketball, and I had to really work to figure out what comes next,” he said. “And that’s really, really hard. But that’s what we have to do as athletes. That’s what we have to figure out.”
When asked if knows what’s next, Bryant gave an emphatic yes.
“Absolutely, I’m a storyteller, I love, love, love storytelling,” he said. “I love framing stories that inspire. I love educating in a very creative way. I love putting pieces of the puzzle together. And I didn’t know that was there until it came time to actually make ‘The Muse,’ and I was like, wow, this is actually pretty fun. And that burning desire is there.”
Bryant will retire as one of the best basketball players of all time. Lakers Coach Byron Scott said fans have gotten to witness an incredible slice of history through Bryant.
“He’s right there with M.J.,” Scott said, comparing Bryant to Michael Jordan.
For Bryant, the last 20 years have been a beautiful blur, and for that he’s overwhelmed with gratitude.
“How many kids can say growing up that they’ll turn pro and play for their favorite team in the world and spend their entire career there?” he said. “It’s been a dream.”