Well, it’s official. This will be Kobe Bryant’s last season in the NBA.
Bryant made the announcement via ThePlayersTribune.com yesterday in a heartfelt poem, saying goodbye to the game of basketball.
For anyone keeping up with Kobe’s play this season, it was almost inevitable that this indeed would be his last season. However, the announcement makes it real.
For many fans, like myself, the Kobe Bryant era has been all they’ve known. I’m 28 years old and started watching basketball –- more specifically, Lakers basketball –- in middle school.
Kobe’s standard of play is something I’ve become accustomed to and certainly taken for granted, as I’m sure others have as well. However, even the most astute basketball historians know the place in history Kobe Bryant holds. They know how rare it is to see a player of Bryant’s caliber come around.
You could go down the line of accomplishments when it comes to Bryant: Five-time NBA champion. 2008 League MVP. Two-time NBA Finals MVP. 17 All-Star selections. Four All-Star MVPs. 11 All-NBA First Team selections. Nine All-Defensive First Team selections. Two scoring titles.
Again, the list goes on and on.
Along the way, there were certainly too many remarkable moments to count or keep track of. I could bring up the clutch shots Kobe made against Portland in 2004 to bolster the Lakers playoff position, but I’d forget to mention the multiple game-winning baskets he made throughout the 2009-2010 season.
I could mention his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, but forget to mention his 62-point performance in three quarters — in which he outscored the entire Dallas Mavericks team — earlier that season.
Or I could mention his 55-point game against Michael Jordan in 2003, but forget to mention that he tied Jordan’s record of consecutive 40-point-plus games at nine in the same year. But then I might forget that time he had a streak of four 50-point-plus games in 2007 that went 65, 50, 60, 50, with the last two games being back-to-backs.
I could talk about the time Kobe broke the three-point record by knocking down 12 triples in a game, but fail to mention that he did so en route to 45 points on 16-28 shooting, and more notably, a performance that Phil Jackson called “perhaps the greatest streak shooting I have ever seen in my life.”
I could bring up the time Kobe suffered an intentional ankle sprain at the hands (or feet) of Jalen Rose of the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals, and how he missed Game 3 but returned for Game 4 to carry the team when Shaquille O’Neal fouled out towards the end. Of course, I might forget to mention the playoff series against the Utah Jazz in 2008 where Kobe could barely walk as a result of a back injury, but managed to carry the team to victory.
And then there’s the time he fractured his index finger in two places during the 2009-2010 season, but instead of allowing it to heal, adjusted his shooting stroke and played through it — to end up the 2010 NBA Finals MVP. I could bring that up, but I might forget to mention all the games throughout his career where he played through a virus or stomach flu — vomiting at halftime but performing like nothing was bothering him in the second half.
I could reminisce about all the times the Black Mamba used his elite footwork to shake an entire defense and make a remarkable shot or get to the rim, but I’d have to also bring up all the flashy passes he made in the lane to Shaq, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, or even Ronny Turiaf.
I could mention his scoring over the years, but I might overlook the fact that he has over 6,000 assists and that he’s been the Lakers primary playmaker for the majority of his career.
I’d talk about all of the fancy dunks he had in transition, but I’d have to mention the times he posterized shot-blocking big men like Ben Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, and Kevin Garnett as well.
As dominant as today’s superstars like Kevin Durant and LeBron James are, how many times have they jammed on a seven-footer and embarrassed them? That kind of fire and fearlessness is something we’ll all miss from the Black Mamba. He loved to absolutely destroy opponents whether it was by way of hitting an impossible basket or dunking on a known rim protector.
I’m certainly going to miss moments like those above, and I’m proud to say I witnessed all of them either live on TV or while in attendance at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant made the Lakers “Must See TV,” and he did it in Hollywood for nearly 20 years.
I certainly couldn’t look away.
I got to witness him achieve a three-peat with Shaq on a veteran team, accomplish many scoring feats on a bad team, and then see him lead and mold a group of talented players to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
I’m going to miss those remarkable performances, where I took for granted the fact that he was making his mark in history in some shape or form. Any one of those moments would be a defining moment in the average player’s career, but the culmination of those moments are what makes Bryant’s career so legendary.
I’ll miss the individual battles he’d have with opposing players on a nightly basis — some battles with players of his offensive caliber, and then others with elite defenders whose sole purpose was to try and stop Bryant.
If you think about it, he began his era with Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But when their skills showed signs of decline, Vino’s seemingly got better.
When the rest of his “peers” were no longer equal competition, he battled with young stars such as Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and LeBron James. He managed to not only compete with them, but beat them out for his first MVP award in 2008, at age 29.
Following that, he was the go-to guy on the 2008 Olympic gold medal game with all of those guys on his team. There was no question who the best player was at the time — and who the other superstars wanted with the ball in his hands when the game was on the line.
You could have argued he was the best player in the NBA for nearly a decade.
Even when he was no longer considered the top player, he still gave his much younger peers a run for their money. In 2013 and in his 17th season, Kobe had arguably one of his best individual seasons and finished fifth in MVP voting behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul — at 34 years of age. (He of course tore his Achilles towards the end of that season, and hasn’t been the same since.)
I’ll miss all of the comparisons to those players and of past legends, because a player like Kobe Bryant is one you have to compare with the greatest of all time.
I’ll miss the trash talking with whoever’s guarding him on a given night.
I’ll miss him putting his arms out to the side after knocking down a clutch basket, soaring to the bench like a jet, as if he’s signalling that he’s taking the team home safely.
I’ll miss him putting his index finger over his lips after hitting a big shot on the road, indicating to the crowd that it’s quiet time and he’s putting the kids to bed.
I’ll miss him putting the two air guns back in his holster after knocking down a three.
I’ll miss the “Mamba Bite” that came out when he’d be so intensely into a game and would literally do anything to win.
I’ll miss the dramatic way he would build up a game, and the theatrics he put on display to captivate a global audience.
I’ll miss the stories of his maniacal training and how he hired his own “Jack Bauer” to help him beat the Boston Celtics in 2010.
I, and the NBA in general, will miss everything about Kobe Bryant when he’s gone.
He’s been an inspiration to millions of people across the world, from all walks of life, battling various different situations.
It’s the mentality and dedication he puts forth into his craft that we admire. It makes us as human beings believe there’s nothing we can’t accomplish with sacrifice and dedication.
Kobe’s said he wants to be remembered as an overachiever — someone who’s fully maximized his potential as a basketball player.
Well, if for whatever reason you’re reading this, Kobe Bryant, here’s my message to you:
“You definitely have accomplished your goal. You’ve exhausted every possible option when it came to being the best player you could be, and it’s resulted in you becoming one of the greatest players of all time.
As you alluded to in your documentary (Kobe Bryant’s Muse), you had many Muses growing up.
You’ve certainly become a Muse to many individuals around the world, and we’ll definitely miss your playing career. At the same time, you’ve been captivating off the court as well, and your fans can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.”
It will certainly be a sad day in April when he steps on Staples Center’s hardwood floor for the last time, but for now, we have 67 games left (hopefully) to see the legend that is Kobe Bryant in his natural habitat.
It’s time to appreciate every moment we have left of the Black Mamba, and to reflect on a magnificent career accomplished by an amazing individual.