Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Lakers waves to his fans during NBA Fan Appreciation Day event ahead of a 2013-2014 NBA preseason game against Golden State Warriors in Shanghai, China, Thursday, Oct. 17. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
CHICAGO – While plowing through a mound of thinly sliced, medium rare beef at the United Center media dining room an hour before the Bulls-Nuggets tiff Friday night, one of my writers at PhilBoxing.com's NBA page showed more fervor than usual.
"Did you hear the news?” asked Katrina, a lawyer by day and Bulls beat writer by night.
Ravenously hungry, I nonchalantly said "no" and devoted all my attention and energy ravaging the pinkish, semi-cooked meat, the ranch-drenched salad and butter-soaked dinner rolls that were spilling on my plate.
"Kobe Bryant could be a Chicago Bull next season," Katrina said. "It's all over ESPN," she added, her baby blue eyes dancing under the bright fluorescent lights.
At age 45, with 20 years of NBA reporting under my belt, nothing surprises me anymore. But I reluctantly admit that the prospect of a Derrick Rose-Kobe Bryant backcourt made me almost choke on a crouton.
I did, however, quickly snap out of the day dream. It's one of those tall tales like the existence of Big Foot, I convinced myself. Mystifying but stretching the truth.
Silly as it sounds, though, the talks of Kobe Bryant leaving the Lakers have raged throughout the summer. And as he enters his final season under contract, one that pays him the highest in the NBA at $30.5 million, the Kobe farewell tour plot only thickens.
For a while, the scenario seemed believable given that Kobe continues to recover from a torn Achilles, an April mishap that could sideline the former MVP for as long as 12 months.
From a management standpoint, letting Kobe walk out the door would be a public relations catastrophe. But it may also be a sound business decision.
Bryant, after all, is 35 years old, weathered by 17 NBA seasons and somewhat diminished by the brutal 54,048 minutes he has logged in 1,459 regular season and playoffs games.
Father Time is undefeated. All the greatest performers fade, no exceptions. And franchises pick up the pieces, move on and search for another star.
That's just how it goes in sports. A vicious cycle of ups and downs. A period of predictable joys and tears. And a time of happy hellos and inevitable melancholic goodbyes.
Yes, players shedding uniforms and changing loyalties happen all the time. But not in L.A., not when it comes to perhaps the greatest two-guard to ever wear the purple-and-gold.
"I want to put an end to any speculation that we would allow Kobe to become a free agent. That's not going to happen. Kobe is a top priority for us. He's a Laker legend and always will be. I don't think we're done winning championships with him yet," said a statement issued by Lakers vice president for basketball operations Jim Buss.
Just like that, 49 words in one fat paragraph and all the Kobe rumors are put to bed. They turned out to be nothing but empty noise, drummed up during the tediously boring off-season where on-court action was idle and the off-court chatter was rampant.
Barring any highly unlikely twist, Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion who continues to give everything he has for the City of Angels, will retire as a Laker.
In Hollywood, they call this a happy ending.