Kobe Bryant, The Final Chapter

I’m sure you’ve already heard the news as it has controlled the sports news beat for the past 48 hours since the announcement, but Kobe Bryant will retire at the end of the 2015-2016 NBA season.

It’s with heavy hearts for most NBA fans that we say goodbye as we watch the final chapter of one of the greatest players in NBA history. It’s especially difficult after reading a poignant and heartfelt poem from Bryant himself breaking the news to the world. This also led to the Players’ Tribune site crashing from extreme levels of web traffic.

I want to take some time to recognize the accomplishments of an NBA player who was truly larger than life. Let us not forget, he did it under the brightest of lights the NBA can provide — Los Angeles. No man in the NBA showed us true determination, ego, bravado, ability, athleticism, and competitiveness like Kobe Bryant did in the era that I’ve been alive since Michael Jordan. Here’s to you, Kobe.

The Resume

Without a doubt, Kobe is a future NBA Hall of Fame player. He sports one of the most decorated resumes in NBA history:

  • 5-time NBA Champion (including 7 NBA Finals Appearances)
  • 2-time NBA Finals MVP
  • 2008 NBA MVP
  • 2-time scoring champion
  • 17-time NBA All-Star
  • 4-time NBA All-Star Game MVP
  • 15-time All-NBA Team Selection (11-time FIRST team selection)
  • 12-time All-Defensive Team Selection (9-time FIRST team selection)
  • 1997 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champion 
  • 2nd most points in an NBA game with 81

Kobe also sports the most NBA seasons played for a single franchise (20). This is a rare feat in today’s sports climate and I doubt if it will ever be repeated. Loyalty is fickle thing in the sports world and it pains many fans to remember just how much of a business the NBA can be sometimes.

In addition to his other accolades, Kobe is the leader in numerous Lakers franchise records including:

Games played, minutes played, field goals, field goals attempted, 3-pt field goals, 3-pt field goals attempted, field goals missed, free throws, free throws attempted, steals, points, fouls, and turnovers. 

Kobe is also third on the NBA All-Time Points Leaders list, trailing only NBA greats like Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Career

FILE - In this April 12, 2013 file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grimaces after being injured during the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, in Los Angeles. Bryant won't be back on the court for the Lakers this season. The Lakers said Bryant was examined by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo, who determined that the left knee injury that has kept Bryant out of the lineup still hasn't healed. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) ORG XMIT: NY163

Kobe Goes Down. [Photo Cred: AP]

Kobe’s exit hasn’t been the cleanest. We’ve watched him struggle with injury the past two seasons. We have watched his stubbornness and his struggles to understand his body at this age drag down an already stumbling Los Angeles Lakers franchise as he refuses to take a backseat in his later years.

Kobe & his fans. [Photo Cred: NY Times]

Kobe & his fans.
[Photo Cred: NY Times]

Kobe is not one of the most polarizing players in history, but he has created a divide in NBA fandom. He oft became the symbol of success in the NBA and there’s nothing some fans love to see more than seeing the great ones fall. While Kobe Bryant fans exist worldwide, both in the United States and overseas, so do his haters.

However, for someone like myself who has never been a self-titled “Kobe fan,” it does pain me to realize Kobe’s career is finally reaching the end. I’ve always rooted for someone other than Kobe Bryant — first it was MJ, then it was Iverson & McGrady, and now it’s LeBron. While all of my players of choice have been great and successful in their own right, Kobe has been present during all of their times as a constant reminder that greatness could be found in Los Angeles.

No one forgets his years with Shaquille O’Neal, dominating the NBA as one of the most dynamic duos of all time achieving three straight NBA titles alongside “The Zen Master” Phil Jackson. The craziest part is they nearly accomplished a four-peat before being upset by the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals even with new additions like Karl Malone and Gary Payton — both well past their respective primes at this point — to their roster. However, We can’t ever forget their ups-and-downs, the clashing of two enormous egos under bright lights in the second most critical media market in the United States.

Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, right, talks with guard Kobe Bryant during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002. The Lakers won 111-99. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

Kobe & Shaq

No matter your opinions on their feud, you cannot deny their success on the hardwood. Kobe went to struggle the next few seasons alongside poor teammates as the Lakers front office struggled to fill the void O’Neal left behind after joining Miami and ultimately winning his fourth championship alongside a young Dwayne Wade.

Pau Gasol in Laker Gold

Pau Gasol in Laker Gold

They continued to struggle until they snagged a lowball trade for Pau Gasol. While the Memphis Grizzlies eventually turned that trade into All-Star Center Marc Gasol, it gave Kobe and the Lakers exactly what they needed to pursue a few more rings. The presence of a healthy Andrew Bynum wasn’t too shabby either.

kobe_bryant__andrew_bynum_and_pau_gasol_by_lalakerskbbmabfan-d563s6n

The Lakers “Big 3”

The Lakers went on to win two more championships back-to-back with two new dominant big men in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and their always shining star, Kobe Bryant. The Lakers seemed poised to push for their second three-peat in a decade before being swept and dominated by the Dallas Mavericks in an embarrassing outing in Game 4. The Mavericks would go on to win the NBA Championship that season over the Big 3 in Miami.

imrs

Kobe’s Struggles.

Much unraveled after the loss of Phil Jackson following the loss in the 2010-2011 playoffs to the Mavericks. Lamar Odom was traded away, the Lakers went through multiple coaches (Mike Brown & Mike D’Antoni), and they picked up Steve Nash who became plagued with injury and big man Dwight Howard who cowered under Los Angeles’s bright lights.

And thus we saw the end of the success and reign atop the NBA for Kobe Bryant. From the moment Kobe entered the league, he had been in the fray at the top of the league fighting for championships. Of course we have to remember the post-Shaq years, but even then Kobe was young enough to see a better future ahead. Now we knew Kobe’s best days were behind him and it looked like the Lakers’s best days were behind them too.

Old age is a tough thing to watch in sports. You watch players from their youth showcase every talent they ever develop and then you watch those talents diminish. It’s even tougher to watch the great ones eventually surrender to Father Time. It’s the vicious cycle of life, especially in sports where your time at the top is even more finite.

Let us not bask in the sadness, but instead review and appreciate all that Kobe could do..

The Obligatory Highlight Video

Because nothing makes a player look more badass than a YouTube mashup!

[Video Cred: ER’s Highlights]

The Point

It’s important that we all take a moment to appreciate the fact that we are watching the final chapter of one of the greatest NBA players of our time.

How many times in our lives will we witness greatness night-in and night-out and then watch it walk out the door to never see again?

How many times will you watch the victory lap of one of the NBA’s greats that you will hear about forever?

How many times will you have a discussion as an old man or woman about greatest NBA players and be able to talk about how you had the privilege of watching Kobe Bryant in person or on TV?

Whether you hate Kobe or whether you love Kobe, it’s time to pay respect. It’s time to pay your respects for one of the heroes of this generation of NBA basketball and for helping keep the NBA a budding organization with the promise of a future. It’s time to thank Kobe for showing us what true grit, determination, and competitiveness can achieve. It’s time to thank Kobe for being the person we hated or loved, but we still watched every night whether to root for or against. It’s time to thank Kobe for being Kobe and blessing you with amazing NBA basketball. If you love basketball, whether you hated Kobe or not, you’ll understand the importance he had to this league and to this sport. It’s damn well time to start recognizing that.

It’s a unique opportunity that I think too many people take for granted, to watch a star shine and then fade. Especially in our day and age where information and television are so vastly available, take advantage of the fact that you can watch greatness live.

One. Last. Time.

Cheers to you Kobe,

A Legend Lives On

 

–Darrick Mckirnan

 

 

 

 

 

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