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Kobe Bryant To End 20-Year NBA Career After This Season

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

One of the best basketball players ever has announced his retirement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KOBE BRYANT: Do I want to play (laughter) again or don't I? That's a very - it's a very simple question, but it's a hard question when you look in the mirror and ask yourself. And the reality is, no, I don't. So why belabor it (laughter)?

MCEVERS: Yesterday, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said that this season will be his last. He broke the news with a poem that appeared on the website The Players' Tribune. In his 20 seasons as a pro, Bryant has won five NBA titles. He played in 17 All-Star games, and he scored the third most points in league history. There was controversy early in his career. He was accused of sexual assault in 2003, a charge that was later dropped.

Adrian Garcia Marquez calls Laker games for Time Warner Cable Deportes. We reached him this morning, just before his plane took off for Philadelphia, where the Lakers play tomorrow night. I asked him why Kobe Bryant made this announcement now.

ADRIAN GARCIA MARQUEZ: He calculates everything he does. And I think, after analyzing quite a few things, especially the body and the mind, maybe his heart, maybe his mind says do this; shoot that; make this. But the body sometimes was lacking to catch up. And he's starting to realize that, I think. And Kobe - that's why, at the end of the day, after calculating carefully, he's decided to officially announce that he's going to retire.

MCEVERS: I mean, Kobe Bryant is famous everywhere. But here in LA, I mean, he's basically a god. Can you just describe the relationship between Kobe and Laker fans?

MARQUEZ: Wow. It's - you know, I've had the privilege of covering major league baseball, boxing, the NFL and soccer, you know? And I have - very few times have I seen an audience, an area, a region love an athlete as much as the Laker fans love Kobe Bryant. And I think a lot of people were hoping that Kobe would catch lightning in a bottle this year and drop 20, 30, 40 points a night. And when he's not doing that, I think everybody gets a little weirded out about, you know, not seeing as much, as we call him, Kobe Bryant perform the way he's always performed.

So I think seeing that mortality, I guess Laker fans have come to the realization that this is definitely it for Kobe Bryant. And Kobe, I think, realized that as well. And they're going to move forward. And - but Laker fans love Kobe Bean Bryant, make no mistake. He can do no wrong in their eyes.

MCEVERS: You have covered Kobe Bryant at the games for four years now. I mean, how was he changed as a player and also as a person?

MARQUEZ: We've always seen - and that's why, you know, in our broadcast, in Spanish, I'll call him El Macho - The Alpha. You see - Kobe just, you know, has that scowl. You know, like, he's just mean. He just wants to beat you. And so I saw that Kobe when I first arrived. And now I see Kobe the teacher, Kobe that talks to the young player, Kobe that kind of pulls a guy to the side - hey, listen; this, this and that, when in the past, Kobe was like, hey, I expect you to run with me and keep up with me, no questions asked; we want to win. And now I think Kobe's been more nurturing. If I've seen anything, Kobe's become more of a padrino - godfather of sorts to some of these players because there's a lot that comes from playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

MCEVERS: I understand that Kobe Bryant retired by way of a poem. Did you read it? Can you tell me about it?

MARQUEZ: Yeah. You know, I heard a lot of people at Staples Center last night, including my wife, said that her eyes got watery just reading it because it was so sincere. And that's the one thing I think we all know about Kobe Bryant, if anything, is that good or bad, Darth Vader or not, he was always sincere about what he was expressing. And that poem, I think, captured precisely that.

MCEVERS: Adrian Garcia Marquez, thank you so much.

MARQUEZ: Not a problem. Viva la mamba negra (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.