Kobe to A-Rod: What Happened to Athletes Just 'Retiring'? - Rolling Stone
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Kobe to A-Rod: What Happened to Athletes Just ‘Retiring’?

From Kobe and Jeter’s season-long kiss-off to Peyton’s last stand, this is the new superstar retirement model

Kobe, A-Rod, Athlete, Retiring, SportsKobe, A-Rod, Athlete, Retiring, Sports

A-Rod's Sunday morning retirement announcement and Kobe Bryant's season-long farewell were optimized for attention.

Elsa/Getty, Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty

If you got the news last Saturday night about Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees announcing a press conference the following morning while you were at dinner or in a movie or however you tend to spend your freakin’ weekend, and thought, “11 a.m. on a Sunday sounds like a weird time for a press conference,” you weren’t alone. That’s the time when we’re supposed to be in church, mowing the lawn before it gets too hot, eating bagels, drinking a Bloody Mary or, hell, still sleeping. That’s no time for a guy with nearly 700 home runs to say he’s stepping away from the game. Granted, this is A-Rod we’re talking about. The guy is undeniably great, but he’s left us plenty of reasons to question his legacy. But the Sunday morning thing, when we’re supposed to be thinking about the wasted years so close behind – I had to put in either a Velvet Underground or Kris Kristofferson reference in here (sorry, not sorry) – that’s no time for anybody to announce anything, let alone a retirement. 

Yet, for some reason, I liked seeing it a little more than the other choices. 

Does anybody remember Kobe Bryant’s last year? Of course you don’t! You probably hated Kobe unless you were a Lakers fan, and it was just one long montage followed by him playing the type of game we’d expect out of him a decade ago, but could hardly come close to replicating over the last few injury-plagued seasons. Then, his “Hollywood ending,” the type of last performance that takes beating every last ounce of cynicism out of yourself to truly appreciate, the one where Bryant drops 60 points agains the Utah Jazz. You didn’t see it coming, but it was sort of inevitable, right? He couldn’t have just played, scored an even number around twenty and that was it. No way. Kobe’s retirement was more than that; it was a season-long event. 

I’ll admit that yes, as a New Yorker (albeit not a Yankees fan), Derek Jeter’s similar Bryantesque treatment when he retired in 2014 moved me at moments. The advertisement where he’s going through the Bronx to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and the final at-bat that won the game at Yankee Stadium? Do you think I’m made of ice water? Of course that stuff got to me. But that was it. I didn’t need to know the entire farewell tour.

And Peyton. I won’t get that into Peyton Manning because, yes, the grizzled old gunslinger going into one last shootout and coming away victorious before hobbling off into the sunset and singing to a chicken parm is fine. We’re supposed to live for stuff like that as sports fans. But there was something about it, like you knew he was either going to deliver the win or he was going to drag football fans through one last season of him being pretty good at handing the ball off because his upper-body has been battered so many times over the years. 

This doesn’t mean that making sure everybody knows a guy is going to spend a lot more time on his golf game next season is wrong. Do I want to see David Ortiz getting love everywhere he goes? Absolutely. The guy is a gem, and I won’t hear any talk about how he shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame (seriously, people think that). And watching David Ross, the pack leader of the very young Chicago Cubs team, play out his last year has been a treat whether you love the team or hope they never win a World Series. 

A-Rod making those of us who cared enough set aside our Sunday brunch plans to listen to him lay out his plans for the future was weird. It was, in retrospect, the only guy as talented and controversial as him who could have done it. He snuck out the backdoor, essentially. Telling us on a Sunday in August that he was retiring the following Friday night in August – against the Tampa Bay Rays in a game that doesn’t really mean much of anything at all. No gifts, no six months of epic videos reliving his greatest moments; just a Sunday morning much to do about nothing. 

It was weird, it was different in this era of drawn-out retirements and, weirdly, it was the one thing Rodriguez actually did right in the last few years. 


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