The 36-year-old, 19-year L.A. Lakers star spent all of media day this week hinting at just as much as he prepared to take the court with his teammates in a formal team setting for the first time in what seems like forever.
Bryant’s fans will be pleased, though probably not surprised, to know that a fractured left knee and a still recovering Achilles tendon have not left him any less confident in his standing among the league’s elite. And let Bryant say that might not be changing anytime soon. Not even when the final two years on his current Lakers deal have run their course.
“The biggest key for anybody in retirement is you always want to retire by choice,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Whether I do or not, we’ll have to see that two years from now. But I could play longer. Physically, I don’t see an end to the tunnel.”
Watching Bryant dominate in a recent full-court scrimmage, L.A. coaches also seem convinced that the Black Mamba could soon be nearly as deadly as he’s always been.
“He looked like the old Kobe,” raved assistant coach and former teammate Mark Madsen. “I think Kobe can play two to four more years. He looked great. Kobe looked strong. He had a couple game-winners.”
And in the end, despite all the dire forecasts, that could make this season a whole different ballgame for the Lakers as they seek to regroup from a franchise worst 27-55 finish last season.
“He is a guy that is going to still average 23, 24 points per game,” added coach Byron Scott. “I’ve had a chance to sit and talk to Kobe. I had a chance to see him work out. I had a chance to see him play five-on-five. He’s far from retired.”
And if Madsen and Scott’s declarations aren’t calming enough, Bryant’s own words come as the sort of pronouncement Lakers fans most want to hear.
“The size of the challenge that’s ahead of me has really forced me to really focus in a lot more than I ever have,” he said. “That’s a 360-degree thing – that’s nutrition, that’s training, that’s mentally preparing.”
And who really wants to be bet against an in-the-zone Kobe Bryant?