Kobe Bryant: How Lakers Icon's Death Led to Maria Sharapova's Retirement Decision

The passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant was a reportedly a big factor in Maria Sharapova's decision to retire. Sharapova announced that she is retiring from professional tennis on Wednesday, surprising fans and her colleagues in the sport. Sharapova told The New York Times that her friendship with Bryant and the heartbreak of his death influenced her decision.

Bryant passed away on Sunday, Jan. 26 in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. He was just 41 years old. Just days beforehand, Sharapova had been eliminated from the 2020 Australian Open in the first round. It would be her last professional tournament.

According to Sharapova, Bryant was an "incredible sounding board" for her as another pro athlete and a big supporter of women in sports. She was already toying with the idea of retirement as she left Australia, revealing that she had plans to see get together with Bryant the following week.

"We were supposed to see each other like three days after the crash," she said.

She later spoke to The Times about Bryant's death, admitting that it left a huge impression on her.

"I think we all seem at times in our journey like larger than life because of what we do, but everyone at the core is incredibly fragile," she said. "And if anything it just opens up your eyes to what really matters in life, so that was a moment where I had a really good think about my future as well."

Many were surprised when Sharapova announced her retirement, especially given her age at just 32 years old. She explained that the decision was really a matter of re-ordering her priorities.

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"As I think you've seen throughout my career, my perseverance has been my greatest tool, my greatest strength. But I've started feeling like it was becoming a weakness, because the stubbornness that was keeping me going was keeping me going for wrong reasons," she said. "Would I have loved to have a sixth, a seventh, an eighth Grand Slam trophy? That number sounds better, but I could have had zero when I started, and I got myself to a pretty incredible place."

Sharapova won her first Grand Slam Title in 2004 at the age of 17, at Wimbledon. She went on to win two French Open titles, one U.S. Open Title and one Australian Open title. She was then banned from the professional circuit for 15 months when she tested positive for a banned substance known as Meldonium in 2016. Since then, Sharapova's comeback has been fraught with injuries and false starts.