The victory lap in pro sports is way too long

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

Los Angeles Lakers legend and NBA great Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball at the end of November. Ever since he’s been in the middle of his victory lap around the NBA.

The most recent trend for retiring superstars in professional sports has been the victory lap. In every city that Bryant plays in for the last time, he gets treated like royalty. Some places give him standing ovations three or four times a game, some give gifts, and some teams prepare videos. Mariano Rivera did it in 2013, Derek Jeter did it in 2014 and now it’s Kobe’s turn to say goodbye.

I don’t think it’s fair for retiring players, even some of the most important in the history of their sports, to take a victory lap around the league for an entire season.

At one point Kobe Bryant was untouchable. Before Lebron entered his prime, it was the Kobe Bryant Show every night he played. Whether he was wearing No. 8 or 24, he was the closest player in comparison to Michael Jordan.

But now Bryant is writing sappy poems online and chucking up air balls from four feet beyond the 3-point line. Not only is it hard to watch the Lakers, but it’s hard to watch Kobe.

Bryant’s shooting percentages and scoring averages are drastically below average and his play has been awful throughout this season. Granted he’s coming off of two injury-filled seasons, but he is still a liability for his team when he’s in the lineup, which is a similar situation to Jeter.

Rivera, Jeter and Bryant were role models of mine and nearly every athlete of my generation growing up. Both Rivera and Jeter announced their retirement before their final season even began. I was fortunate enough to see both of them in their final seasons.

I saw Rivera pitch on an August night in 2013 in Chicago against the White Sox. I attempted to get an autograph from him before the game but the crowd surrounding him was so massive that I could barely even see him. I saw Jeter at Kauffman Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in 2014 and luckily he played that day.

Jeter didn’t play the previous day and people were furious that they paid the price to see Jeter’s last go-around and didn’t even see him take off his sweatshirt. The pressure on Jeter to play every day and for manager Joe Girardi to put him in the lineup every day was a daunting task for a 40-year old. Jeter had his worst offensive season and was still voted an All-Star.

It wasn’t fair to his team for him to play every day and it wasn’t fair to baseball to have to offer up a fancy gesture for him on every road trip.

My suggestion for those players nearing the end of their careers is to not talk about retirement until the time comes. I would recommend not announcing retirement until the final five weeks of the season. That way there is still a chance for the home fans to pay their respect.

The victory lap technique comes off as more of a marketing strategy than anything else. The Yankees and Lakers clearly don’t have to beg people to go to games but the most of the other teams in each league do.

Every year athletes are going to retire. Whether they go quietly like Adam Dunn, Todd Helton or Paul Konerko, or go out with a bang like Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter, there comes a time for everyone to call it quits.

My only hope is that the victory lap idea doesn’t become a common thing for every athlete. Let’s save the celebrations for the end of the season.