Give Kobe Bryant this much: He saw the end far more clearly than some have.
The dimming of the light is never so imperceptible as when you are within its circle, and we have seen the sad results all too often. Think Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the Mets. Think Peyton Manning now, hurting and rag-armed and watching some kid named Brock Osweiler beat the Patriots in his stead.
Or, think Kobe, who announced Sunday that he's known for a long time this would be his last season. The fire is gone, he says. The jumpshot is, too.
He acknowledged that his play has been pathetic this season, a statement that only bows to the obvious. He went 4-of-20 Sunday in a loss to the Pacers, a performance that was hardly an anomaly. So far this season, he's averaging 15.7 points on 31.5 percent shooting, and he's shooting just 19.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
These are not Kobe Bryant numbers. Anita Bryant numbers, perhaps, but not Kobe Bryant numbers.
And so he will step aside after this season, a decision with which he says he's entirely at peace. It has, after all, been a hell of a run. His pro career began in 1996, when he was a teenager. He's 37 now. In between have come five NBA titles, more than 25,000 points, more than 6,000 rebounds and more than 6,000 assists.
Only four players in NBA history have attained all of those last three numbers. So, the Hall of Fame is his next stop.
It has not all been sunshine and roses, of course. The great parlor game with Kobe is how many titles he would have won had he not been such an insufferable ass. He couldn't get along with Shaq, and that probably cost him another couple of titles. He couldn't get along with a succession of players who came after Shaq. By the final years of his career, his presence with the Lakers became something of a reverse selling point, with quality free agents looking elsewhere rather than entertain the prospect of playing with Kobe. Accurate or not, he had a reputation, and it wasn't good.
But history has a habit of obscuring those sorts of things when the numbers are right. And the numbers are beyond any question right.
So is Kobe Bryant's timing.