If Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was a dairy product, he’d probably be cheddar cheese—the more he ages, the sharper he gets. Bryant turns 35 this summer, but it’s quite apparent he can still play at a higher level than most.
On Sunday afternoon, Bryant scored 38 points on 13-for-21 from the field in a close 103-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Less than 48 hours before that, he scored 40 points in another close victory, 111-107, at Staples Center on Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Despite Bryant’s recent facilitator makeover, he’s showing us he still has the ability to wreak havoc on the scoreboard. He’s currently averaging 27.1 points per game, which qualifies for third best in the league. Furthermore, he’s shooting at a 46.9 percent clip, the most efficient he has been since the 2001-02 season.
"It's just what I'm supposed to do,” Bryant said about shouldering the scoring load in recent games. “It's about that time. I'm kind of going through a process of facilitating and things like that, but now it's time to put the whole thing together."
Bryant also hasn’t forgotten how to close out games. He scored 14 in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks on Sunday and 11 in the fourth quarter against the Blazers Friday evening.
With those numbers, it’s difficult to envision that Bryant will be on the brink of retirement when he turns 35 in August. Currently, players who are ages 35 or older make up less than 5 percent of the NBA. Moreover, he’s just about exhausted the years on his current contract.
"Kobe (Bryant) has one more year on his deal (this year, plus one),” said Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. “That's all I can bank on or this organization can bank on. I have no idea if he wants to continue to play beyond next year.”
Obviously, that will be up to Bryant to determine whether he wants to go further with his career even if his present statistics goad him on. After Friday night’s victory against the Blazers, he was exploratory when his media conversation in the Lakers locker room turned to retirement and finding a new challenge after his time in the NBA concludes.
Specifically, Bryant’s new challenge would have to be something that appeases his appetite for competition.
“I think the key is to find something that you can sink your competitive teeth into and obsess about,” said Bryant.
What followed was the media playing the role of career counselor by offering Bryant various options after basketball.
“I guess, I don’t know,” Bryant pondered.
“Besides doing things that are humanitarian efforts, I need to find a job,” answered Bryant. “If I retire, I’ll be 35 or 36 years old.”
Bryant is due $28 million this season and over $30 million next season. Finding a job might appear to be the last thing he needs to do, but his work ethic won’t allow him to be idle.
“(Expletive) that,” Bryant responded. “I need to find something. I need to find something I can obsess about.”
Go the Michael Jordan route and try baseball? Maybe join the Chicago White Sox or the Los Angeles Dodgers? Bryant shook his head side to side.
Join his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal on TNT?
“No,” Bryant quickly said.
Buy the Charlotte Bobcats? Bryant chuckled.
“I think finding an area before you retire that you want to do, to be passionate about,” surmised Bryant. “I think the biggest challenge for every athlete is to find something that you really want to do. A lot of us wait until the last year before we retire to figure that out.”
Bryant threw the media a bone and told them he did have an idea of what he may want to pursue after the NBA. However, he kept those plans clandestine.
“Telling (my future plans) takes away from my personal challenge and you guys (the media) will criticize me to see if I could do it or not,” Bryant said jokingly.
Though Bryant wouldn’t reveal his after-basketball occupation, it’s certainly not on his mind at the moment. His team is a game shy of .500 and 2.5 games behind the Houston Rockets in the playoff race.
Getting into the postseason should keep him obsessed enough.