Kobe Bryant is ready to put down the basketball, but he insists “I’m carrying this with me no matter what.”
The longtime Los Angeles Laker announced on Sunday that he will retire from the sport at the end of the current NBA season and he opened up to Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts about his decision in an interview that aired Wednesday.
“It’s the right time, there’s no point in dragging it out,” Bryant said.
Bryant, who called himself a “diehard” Lakers fan, said the choice to leave the team was “something that kind of evolved over the last three years,” starting with his 2013 Achilles tendon injury.
“That really frightened me,” he shared. “Because you know, it was like, ‘My career could be over now.’ It scared me. ‘What am I going do next?’ sort of thing. So I took that time to start trying to figure that out.”
While Bryant contended that it was a “slow process” to get to a point where he was ready to say goodbye, he is now at peace with his decision. What he can’t believe, however, is the outpouring of love from his longtime fans, who he called “vital” to his career.
The star says “it’s fantastic” to be called the “greatest of all time” amid some of his own idols.
“To be mentioned in the same breath as those players, honestly, to me is – I mean, that’s everything,” he shared. “I mean, we’ll sit and debate endlessly who was better, who would win in a one-on-one matchup between myself and M.J. [Michael Jordan]. And you can debate that ’till the cows come home.”
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Bryant certainly doesn’t include himself in the best “starting five” players ever.
“I’d put the people that I’ve actually learned the most from, being Jordan, Magic [Johnson], [Larry] Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Jerry West,” he revealed. “Those are the players that personally I’ve learned the most from.”
But has the star achieved everything he wanted out of his career? Not quite.
“I wanted eight championships, as a dreamy kid, growing up … I wanted eight,” Bryant, who has give NBA championship rings, shared. “Because Magic had five. And then Michael had six. And then I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to win eight.’ And had the opportunity to have seven and didn’t work out. But that was my – that was my childhood dream was to try to win eight [championships] – how ridiculous does that sound?”
No matter what, however, the athlete said “my love, my passion” for the game “is always gonna be with me.”