With Kobe Bryant putting down the basketball and picking up the quill, we got our own scribe, Loretta Barnard, to analyze his farewell poem.
To say that Kobe Bryant is an astonishingly good basketballer is a true understatement. The American professional basketball player has been with the Los Angeles Lakers for twenty years. In that time, he’s won the U.S. National Basketball Championship five times, has played in 17 NBA All-Star games, won the NBA Most Valuable Player award, and scored himself two Olympic gold medals.
Kobe Bryant is a titan of the game.
But, this week, he announced his pending retirement.
It’s a huge loss to basketball, but the sporting world’s loss is literature’s gain. Kobe has brought his considerable basketball skills to poetry with his ode to basketball, “Dear Basketball.”
From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.
A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.
I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
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.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1
Love you always,
In this moving farewell poem to his great love, his first love—basketball—to which he gave his all, encapsulated in the boundaries of the sentence, “From my mind & body / To my spirit & soul.”
He approaches his journey chronologically, opening with the touching image of a small boy shooting imaginary goals using his father’s rolled-up socks.
Basketball is personified as “you” and halfway through he intentionally capitalizes the addressee—“YOU”—in a powerful message of commitment. His passion is tangible: this love is greater than any for a woman; it’s a love that is transcendent.
Bryant’s use of repetition, irregular line lengths, and no discernible rhyming scheme demonstrates his creative technique. The repetition in particular is a well-thought-through device to convey the depth of his feelings for the game. For example, he uses the word “love” six times. In contrast, the word “ball” is used only twice (three times, if you count the “basketball” in the opening line).
Kobe’s dedication to the game, playing through “the sweat and hurt” is derived from the game itself. In fact, the game is bigger than the challenges it contains and, even in failure, the act of playing is life-affirming.
He moves on to a rueful exposition of why he has to part ways with the game. It’s the age-old story of growing older, becoming less able to do the things that could once be done effortlessly. It’s affecting and gives us all pause for personal introspection.
But the poet doesn’t leave us with regret. Basketball will always be a part of him and his love will never die.
It’s a wonderful tribute.
We look forward to Bryant’s continuing development as a poet.