Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan: Career-defining Retirements

The way these two all-time greats left spoke so much about their game.

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(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

We are saying goodbye to two of the best to ever play the game of basketball, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, after the 2015–2016 season. Two legends who are pretty similar in a lot of aspects: they both played their whole careers with only one team, they were both the pillars of their respective franchises, they both have fifteen All-NBA Team selections, they both have more than 10 All-Defensive Team selections, and they both have five championships. On paper, it would seem like they have a lot of similarities but their play, lifestyles, and attitudes couldn’t be any more different and that was reflected in how they both handled their retirement.

Kobe Bryant played in Los Angeles which is obviously a large market. Living and playing in Hollywood is like living under a microscope, anything and everything he would do, cameras would follow. He even received celebrity status just because he was the star for the Lakers. However, being a star in a big city wasn’t all that easy especially when it glorifies drama and controversy and Kobe wasn’t short on that. He was no stranger to these in his twenty years as a Laker, from his fall out with his teammates and coaches, to the Colorado incident, and his trade requests a few years back when he thought of leaving Los Angeles and probably a lot more. Even with all of this, Kobe’s game was able to match all the glitz and glamour the city always provided. He constantly made thrilling plays and shocking game-winners throughout his career which were nothing short of spectacular. It also helped that his attitude was fitting for an environment like Los Angeles; he had that swagger, that killer instinct, and that self-confidence that made him all the more entertaining and marketable. Who wouldn’t want to see someone try to destroy the competition?

His Hollywood buzz was something Kobe really embraced even until the end of his career. Last November, he wrote a poem for The Players’ Tribune entitled “Dear Basketball” to announce his retirement. It was an emotional poem about him loving the game so much but having to say goodbye to it at the end of the season. After his announcement, opposing teams were ready to pay tribute to him in some sort of way when he would play on their court for the last time and that’s exactly what happened. Every rival arena would show a video tribute dedicated to Kobe’s career and how much he meant to the game and end it with a “Thank you.”. He wasn’t viewed as the villain anymore, everyone saw him as a legend who will probably go down as one of the greatest players of all-time.

During his last game ever, he put the cherry on top by scoring an extraordinary 60 points on “Mamba Day”, which Nike coined to celebrate Kobe’s last game. It was a great marketing plan by him and Nike to have his final game be remembered with his long-time endorser. Then after the game, Kobe ended his career as a Laker with his iconic final words: “Mamba out.”. His last moments as a player couldn’t have been scripted any better. It looked like something that came out of a movie. It all felt so grand and spectacular, just how Kobe wanted it to be.

On the other hand, Tim Duncan was just a gentle giant. He was the Spurs’ most decorated star but you might not even notice it with the way he plays and with his soft-spoken demeanor. He had a unique kind of greatness where he never really bothered to show everyone how good he is because everyone just knew. It also helped that he played in San Antonio which wasn’t a big market and was relatively quiet compared to other bigger cities. He lived a simple life and didn’t really change anything about himself from the day he started until his last game.

While Kobe had such high peaks and low valleys which made his career exciting, Tim’s career would be best presented as a straight line because he was so consistent maybe even to a fault. Variety really wasn’t his forte. He became the model of sustainable excellence for being in the playoffs every single year he’s played and for pretty much averaging a double-double for his career. You know what you would get with Tim Duncan, you’re going to get someone who doesn’t have personal agendas, someone who’ll do anything to win and someone that won’t rejoice about anything except for a championship.

After 19 great years with the Spurs, he also announced his retirement but not in a way you might expect from a typical All-Time great. It was nothing extravagant, he didn’t write an article for The Players’ Tribune or make a video announcement or anything else that would produce some sort of hype around it. The Spurs just sent out a press release announcing that Duncan was retiring after 19 seasons. That’s it. A simple press release that didn’t even have a quote from Tim Duncan himself. This might sound so underwhelming especially for someone as great as him but it was probably the most Tim Duncan-esque way of going out. It felt so poetic because looking back at his career, his game was always calculated and calm, it was never loud or flashy. So no one really would have expected him to do something grand to announce his retirement because that just wasn’t who he was. What else would you expect from a player who shunned the spotlight and couldn’t care less about publicity?

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