He said I should make up my mind about my future independently of his decision.
"I'm going to retire," I said.
He raised his eyebrows. For the first time in the conversation, I thought I detected emotion.
"Really?" he asked.
I nodded. The next subject was Shaquille. "Will Shaq's presence on this team color your decision to come back or not?" I asked.
"There's no doubt about that," he said. "I'm tired of being a sidekick." His sentiment came as no surprise. But to hear Kobe say it struck me. I told Kobe I hoped he'd find happiness in basketball and in life. The meeting was over.
I understand why the Lakers treat Kobe as their most valuable asset. His ability to take over a game, to make an impossible play, is unmatched. Yet Kobe is still an employee, and he needs direction and guidance. Kobe is missing out by not finding a way to become part of a system that involves giving to something larger than himself. He could have been the heir apparent to MJ. He may still win a championship or two, but the boyish hero image has been replaced by that of a callous gun for hire.
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