Despite the absence of game content and all that comes with it, every sports offseason features headline-grabbing action in the form of league-altering free agent signings, blockbuster trades and exciting draft selections. Still, one overlooked yet integral part of the time between seasons is the retirements of players old and new.
Some careers end far too early because of injury, off-field mistakes or unfulfilled potential, leaving questions of what could have been. However, every so often a legend decides to hang up the jersey and move forward, causing fans, players and organizations to reflect with nostalgia and appreciation on what had happened during the unforgettable career that has come to a close.
These days, some players decide to reveal their decision in advance and enjoy their “farewell tour” throughout their final season. Others take to social media to break the news, and still others make their announcement in a more traditional or classic way, like a press conference, a newspaper page or a simple statement.
Regardless of their method, in this NBA offseason, a trifecta of icons have declared their playing days over. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have all chosen to walk away from the game of basketball, effectively ending a special era in NBA history.
Playing his entire twenty-year career in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant is widely regarded as one of the greatest Lakers of all-time, and many view him more highly than Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal. A five-time NBA champion, Kobe nips at the heels of Michael Jordan for the title of greatest shooting guard ever, and was the embodiment of stardom, however divisive it may have been.
He finished his career with 33,643 points (third-most all-time), 6,306 assists (29th) and 1,944 steals (14th) in the regular season. He was the 2007-08 Most Valuable Player, an 18 All-Star, a Slam Dunk Contest champion, a two-time scoring champion, and a 15-time All-NBA selection. His 81-point performance in 2006 stands as the highest-scoring single game since 1963. Whether donning number 8 or number 24, Bryant achieved such incredible feats that his final season became a victory lap for a man whose best days were behind him.
Wake Forest alum Tim Duncan is considered by many to be the greatest power forward to ever step foot on a basketball court. His numbers and playing style were not flashy, but his career of consistent success and humility make him the respected individual he is today. The epitome of class, intelligence, teamwork and effort, Duncan led San Antonio to 50 or more wins in all of his 19 seasons with the club, including five championships.
At the end of his career, Duncan boasts a total of 26,496 points (14th all-time), 15,091 rebounds (sixth) and 3,020 blocks (fifth) in the regular season. He was the Most Valuable Player in consecutive seasons (2001-02 and 2002-03), a 15-time All-Star, the 1997-98 Rookie of the Year, and a fifteen-time All-NBA selection. Along with his NBA feats, Duncan was a two-time All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year, and 1997 Player of the Year at the collegiate level with the Demon Deacons.
Beloved in both Minnesota and Boston, Kevin Garnett played 21 seasons in the NBA with three different franchises. On Friday, the former Timberwolves, Celtics and Nets star decided to call it a career. A major piece in two of the 21st century’s biggest trades, KG was an electrifying player during his prime. He personified intensity and passion, and he poured his blood, sweat and tears into every game he played. Garnett is viewed as one of the great forwards in the history of the NBA and was a trailblazer for young players as he entered the NBA straight out of high school.
In the end, KG racked up 26,071 points (17th all-time), 14,662 rebounds (ninth), 5,445 assists (47th), 1,859 steals (16th), and 2,037 blocks (17th) in the regular season, was the 2003-04 Most Valuable Player, a fifteen-time all-star, the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year, a four-time rebounding champion and a nine-time All-NBA selection. His individual success early in his career with the Timberwolves was matched only by his team success with the Celtics after a trade teamed him up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, bringing a championship to Boston and ushering a new wave of “Big Three”-oriented teams into the league landscape.
This year, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal headlined a renowned Hall of Fame class. It is only a matter of time before the Black Mamba, the Big Fundamental and the Big Ticket are enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts’ Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, along with recently-retired WNBA superstar Tamika Catchings – a champion, MVP and pioneer in her own right.
Until then, we will remember with nostalgia their accomplishments, cherish the impact they had on the game and hope that the current and future generations of stars can build upon their greatness.