It takes a lot for Kobe Bryant to admit his mortality.
He played an entire season with a torn pinky (wining a gold medal and a championship when he really needed surgery). He had a severely sprained ankle that had him out indfinitely -- he did not miss a game and tried to give it a go the next time out.
Bryant, even with 16 years under his belt, cannot stop father time. It is not some opponent he can outmaneuver and will victory over. He is 34 years older and has the miles of someone who has played a bit longer with all the Playoff games and the college games he missed playing those early years in the NBA.
Kobe is the kind of player who will not accept the fact his abilities are diminishing and he knows only one way to play. At some point, like some of the great scorers before him, he just will not be able to do that.
Bryant does not want to reach that point, and he is hoping to set retirement on his own terms.
When that might be? Bryant hopes to decide that this summer, as he tells Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:
We’ll talk. I’ll talk to my family and stuff and really see if I want to continue to sacrifice as much as I’m sacrificing right now. I’m putting my body through a lot to just try to get ready to play every single night. To do what I’m doing right now, it’s not easy. I’ll tell you, it’s taken a lot of commitment.
As I sit here right now, yeah [the 2013-14 season will be his last].
Bryant has hinted that he is entering the final phase of his career. However, after passing Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list, the thirst for greatness and to put his stamp on his personal legacy might be too much to pass up.
And it is not like Bryant is no longer effective. He is averaging 27.4 points per game and shooting 46.4 percent from the floor, his best field goal percentage in four years.Having more help in the form of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash has certainly helped him extend his career just a little bit longer.
But to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? That would take another 7,000 points for Bryant. That is potentially another three years. Chasing that record might be out of reach for Bryant.
Kobe is a player that understands the history of basketball and is conscious of where he sits in the pantheon of great players. Believe it that it means a lot to him that he beat Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, the other greats of his era, to five championships and that he sits one from tying Michael Jordan.
Bryant still has a lot to play for and as long as he has the desire to keep playing, he will muster the energy and the greatness to do so. the question Kobe will answer this summer is how much more desire he has left.