Thursday, December 3, 2015

Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement via Poetry

photo © Mark Butkus 2011

Two months into the worst season of his 20 year basketball career, L.A. Laker legend Kobe Bryant announced his retirement at the end of the season on Derek Jeter's The Player Tribune website. The announcement itself was not unexpected, nor was the forum. But the form of the announcement shook not just the sports world but the literary world as well because Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in the form of a poem. Dear Basketball.

Within a week of it's publication the poem — which repeatedly crashed The Players Tribune website — has been dissected and examined more times than any other poem in recent memory.

“It’s not the worst poem I’ve ever read,” said Nick Twemlow, a poet and professor at Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to the New York Times. Twemlow likened it to Sir Thomas Wyatt's 16th-century sonnet Whoso List to Hunt.

Poet C.D. Wright, who won the National Book Critics Award for Poetry in 2011 said, "I thought it was kind of wonderful. I thought of Neruda's Ode to Things."

Bryant's foray into poetry was able to bring five award winning poets together for a stanza-by-stanza critique in Vocativ.

Scribes not known for writing about poetry also had their opinions on Kobe's prose. John Bonazzo wrote in the Observer that, "even more surprisingly, the poem is really good." While Steve McPherson writing in Rolling Stone referred to Dear Basketball as a, "shitty poem."

Without casting aspersions or tossing laurels we present without further ado the poem that shook the world of arts, letters and athletics, Kobe Bryant's Dear Basketball.


Dear Basketball,

From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
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


— Kobe Bryant