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The face of the Lakers came as close as ever to mentioning retirement on Monday, in an interview with CBS Sports.
Kobe Bryant came as close as he has ever come to actually putting a finality on his basketball career, telling CBS Sports NBA writer Ken Berger that he will likely hang up his shoes after his current contract is up in two years.
The 34-year-old guard for the Los Angeles Lakers has logged over 51,000 minutes over the course of his 16-year career throughout the regular season and playoffs.
Bryant is known for his incessant drive and competitive nature, and sometimes it seemed he would keep playing basketball until his legs fall off. But it turns out that Bryant is human after all, and hinted that although the drive is still there, the body may not be able to keep up with it.
"It's just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health," Bryant said. "That's a lot of years. For a guard? That's a lot of years."
Bryant's name often comes up in comparison to Michael Jordan's as one of the best players to ever grace the basketball court. But Jordan has a total of six NBA Championship rings compared to Bryant's five. With the Lakers retooling this year and positioning themselves for a playoff run, Bryant could possibly get two rings to surpass Jordan.
As Berger writes, although Bryant was careful not to be absolute in his declaration, his contract concludes in Bryant's 18th NBA season, and the Lakers are better positioned for a championship run this year with the addition of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
Even after visiting the fountain of youth in the form of a knee procedure in Germany that allowed him to average nearly 39 minutes per game last season, Bryant senses that the end is near -- and not only for his knees, wrist, ankles or other body parts, but also for his incomparably competitive mind. The window, he is ready to acknowledge, is two years. Two more chances to catch Jordan.
Bryant said it was about his drive as well and whether or not he has the hunger to compete and train for such a high standard of playing. When asked if he would switch to more of a role player with less time on the court in exchange for a couple more years of playing, Bryant quickly quashed that thought. "That's not gonna happen. That's just not me," he said.