A message to the Black Mamba in his Hour of Chaos:
Kobe, after 17 years of "living in the shadow of Jordan" while at the same time becoming the undisputed King of L.A., I heard that you finally gave your career an end date.
I read the "As I sit here right now, yeah" response you gave to NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper's question about whether you felt the end of your current contract (after the 2013-14 season) would mean the end of your career.
I see that you finally said it. Sort of.
And as a "friend" and "fan" and member of the media, I can't sit here and not say anything and possibly watch your career end the way it shouldn't.
We all know that your comment actually means one of two things: Either this time next year we'll all be involved in the countdown of one of basketball's greatest careers (yours) or something happened that flipped your entire line of rationality and reason.
(Or that you beautifully lied in answering Howard-Cooper's question.)
Either way, the overall hope -- and I use the word "hope" strongly -- is that you are telling the truth. Only because at this point the only thing that could make your story not one of the greatest sports stories of all is if you decide to not stay true to your most recent words.
Kobe, shut it down. Please. When the horn sounds on the final game of next season, take that bow. Go out in true Black Mamba style.
As much as people have accused you of being selfish during your career, this is the one time you should prove them right. Be selfish. Through and thru. Be Jim Brown. Be Barry Sanders. For once (OK, maybe that's a stretch because we know you've done it before) think about your legacy, the overall arc of it and not just what is happening with and to you in the moment.
Think about how if you truly shut it down at the end of next season, you will be just one year removed from one of the most remarkable seasons of your career. You will be looked at as the sensei of the LeBron James era, the player who put the most overrated Lakers team on his back for an entire season and willed it into the playoffs (or close) even though no one on the squad besides you deserved to be there. You will be only two years and one 38-point game removed from almost winning a scoring title at the age of 33 over the greatest scorer of this generation. No other player -- not even Wilt(!) -- can say he bookended a career on this level.
So unless you turn into your favorite player, Smush Parker, (insert sarcasm here) over the summer, the final three seasons of your NBA career could do two things in the validation department of you being the post-Jordan era's true G.O.A.T. Meaning (1) you can eclipse and erase most of (not all, of course) the drama that filled the early part of your career, when people refused to give your game or you the benefit of doubt. And (2) yours will be the best exit of any player in the history of the NBA.
So stay true to what you just said. Don't do a Shaq or a Jordan or a Kareem and stay longer than you originally intended or said you would. We don't want to see what that looks like on you. Your haters (who probably still are even par with or outnumber those who love you) will hold it against you like black folks hold "30 Rock" against Tracy Morgan.
We don't want to see you deteriorate in front of us, slowed by injury like Allen Iverson, Bill Walton or Larry Bird. Don't let this whole Life After Phil "Laker Thing" this year (and more than likely next year too) get to you and make you even think about doing a Karl Malone or Gary Payton or Patrick Ewing and end up somewhere else looking strange in a strange uniform chasing a ring just to equal Jordan's championship total.
(I read your comment: "I just want No. 6, man! I'm not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it.")
Don't be Charles Barkley in Houston.
You need to know that you are better than that and what you've done deserves a better ending than that.
Look, Kobe, you've made your case. If you let these be your final seasons, if you do stay true to what you said, you've supplied enough evidence to shut up all conversation to the contrary about your legacy and what you have given to the game. Don't mess it up by playing any longer.
I think I speak for a nation of millions when I say we'd rather see the game miss you than have you give us the opportunity of seeing what you'll look like trying to avoid missing the game.