Kobe Bryant Addresses Retirement Speculation, Asks If Best Days Are Behind Him

Kobe Bryant isn't done yet, but he's getting there. And he knows it.

Time has left the once-indiscreet and brazen-faced Los Angeles Lakers superstar introspective and guileless, inclined to look ahead to days when his stay at the top is over.

That doesn't mean he's looking ahead toward retirement, as he so dutifully reminded the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:

Being unable to fulfill his latest All-Star selection was yet another precursor to a future without Bryant. A fracture of the tibial plateau, suffered six games after recovering from an Achilles injury, prevented Bryant—who has now been selected to 16 All-Star games—from making his 15th All-Star appearance.

It was also a stark reminder that nothing has gone as planned for the future Hall of Famer this season.

Where there was once inevitability and sureness, there is now an uncertain and contemplative Black Mamba, working toward a 2013-14 return that is no longer guaranteed.

"It's coming slowly. It's coming slowly," Bryant said Sunday at the NBA's All-Star Game, during which he was a bystander for just the second time since 1999, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. "I'm optimistic coming out of the break that I will have some improvements, once I get back to L.A. and do a couple follow ups and then go from there. But it's been a slow process."

Returning this season, even after going down a second time, wasn't even a question previously. It was going to happen. No way, no how would Bryant be reduced to a spectator for 76 of the season's 82 games.

Age has caught up with him, though, diminishing the impact of his usual defiance and truculence, making it so Bryant is at the mercy of his body, and not his will, for the first time of his career.

That's something he must become accustomed to, a reality he must live with. Having already missed 47 games this season, Brya...

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