National Basketball Association superstar Kobe Bryant recently announced that this will be his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he has led to five championships. The world learned of his decision on the Players' Tribune website in a post titled "Dear Basketball."
Bryant wrote, "This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it's time to say goodbye."
The announcement is giving fans across the league an opportunity to say their goodbyes when he and the Lakers come to their cities. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and 17-time NBA All-Star made his final appearance in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2.
Playing in the nation's capital in his 20th and final season, the 37-year-old Bryant showed many of the skills that have made him one of the NBA's all-time best players. Whether he plays at home or on the road, he has legions of followers. In Washington, facing the host Wizards, that was no different.
"I've been a Lakers' fan since day-one,” Joshua Bailey said while attending the game. “Since the first championship, I've been a Lakers' fan ever since, man. A Kobe fan for life."
That being said, Bryant’s decision to leave is the right one, Bailey added.
"This is a great end to a great career, and I think it is time for him to end," he said. "But you know, I mean you can't say enough about his legacy and what he meant to L.A. and just the fans, you know."
Bailey’s girlfriend, Adrienne Goode, agreed.
"You can't expect him to continue to go on and on," she said. "So it's just an honor to see him play for this last time, and it's just a great experience. But I'm glad he's retiring. Everybody has his time."
The huge support Bryant received from the fans in Washington caught him a bit off guard.
"I thought everybody hated me," he said afterward.
There was a time in his illustrious career when Bryant was not so well received.
In 2003, he was charged with rape by a young woman at a hotel in Colorado. However, the accuser refused to testify and the case was dropped. A civil suit filed by the woman was settled out of court. Bryant made a public apology for the encounter, but never admitted guilt. The case, for fans, now seems a distant memory.
Very few professional sports stars stay with one team for their entire careers, said Lakers fan Angel Heredia.
"Loyalty, you don't see that in players,” he told VOA. “You don't see that in football, basketball. You don't see that kind of loyalty in any of those sports. But it's been a blessing having Kobe on the Lakers team for 20 years."
At his post-game news conference in Washington before a throng of reporters, he said he surprised himself by how well he had played that day. Bryant led the Lakers with 31 points -- double his season average -- and scored what proved to be the game-winning shot in a 108-104 victory over Washington.
"I was thinking about that in the locker room,” Bryant said. “I was thinking, you know, ‘What did I do differently? Was there something?' And I still don't know."
Bryant is expected to appear before sellout crowds as he plays his final road games around the league.
"I don't know how many more performances he'll have like this," Lakers coach Byron Scott said after the game against the Wizards. "But I expect him to play with that type of passion that he plays with every single night. I don't know if it'll be these type of outcomes, but one thing I do know is he'll give it everything he's got."
And that's all fans can ask for as Bryant says farewell during his final season.