The inevitable announcement has been made. Kobe Bryant has announced that he will be retiring at the conclusion of the 2015/16 Season, after 20 full seasons in the NBA. Announcing his decision on “The Players Tribune” he wrote a poem-
“My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,. And that’s OK. I’m ready to let you go. I want you to know now. So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have.”
When a legend of any sport retires, it’s hard to see them go, even when you know the time is right for them to leave. It’s even tougher if it’s a legend of the sport, who has given everything for the team that they played for, becoming the face of the team and almost synonymous with that particular team. Be it Steven Gerrard for Liverpool, Frank Lampard for Chelsea, Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls, their final goodbye is still painful.
Kobe Bryant was the first guard and sixth player to declare and be drafted in the NBA right out of high school. The then 17 year old, was who a star player in Philadelphia, was sought after by the Lakers, who had been given the Charlotte Hornets’ draft pick in 1996. LA had been eyeing him and only told Charlotte (who had the 13th pick) to take him just 5 minutes before he came up. It was later said, Charlotte were not interested in acquiring the young Bryant.
For 17 years, he was the dominant force in the NBA, arguably one of the best guards and shooters in the league throughout the 2000s. And from 1998 till date, he has been the face of the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s actually thanks to Kobe that the game has remained popular around the world in the 21st Century, as they had an iconic player to notice. He would be one of the first names, new basketball fans are likely to hear. His charisma and impact off-the court helped not only boost TV coverage for Lakers’ games, it also meant sell-out crowds for their matches as well as at matches visited by Lakers. His jersey, for over the last 15 years has been in the top 10 selling jerseys in the NBA.
Without a doubt, he was one of the greatest shooters and complete players in the game, rightfully taking his place amongst the elite of the sport, an illustrious group of players that include Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird among others.
He was part of 2 great Lakers teams. The first was at the turn of the century, when he and Shaquille O’Neal led the Lakers to a 3 peat, and then from 2008, he helped many fans re-live the classic Lakers-Celtics rivalry, with Paul Gasol at his side.
Injuries have taken their toll on him in recent times, but it’s not diminished his popularity with the Lakers faithful, and the fans of the game. This is seen that even though he has played 41 games in total between 2013/14 and 2014 /15, he has still been voted on the NBA All Star team since the year 2000.
Currently, he is the best paid NBA player, set to earn $25 million which the Lakers are happy to give, especially as
he is training a new look, young Lakers team, that is slowly rebuilding as he has struggled with injuries. With talented young players such as Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, Kelly and Clarkson in the team, they would, without a doubt, benefit from the mentorship of Kobe.
While his shooting skills have waned in recent times, he was one of the most devastating shooters in his prime. His 81 points against Toronto, was the second highest in NBA history, in terms of points in a single match, behind Chamberlain’s 100 point game. He has shot more than 50 points on 24 occasions. His versatility on both ends of the floor is obvious, as he is the only player in the NBA to score 30,000+ points and have 6,000+ assists. He also has nearly 1,900 steals.
His accolades speak for themselves.
He is a 5-time NBA Champion, 2 time NBA Finals MVP, 1 time NBA Regular season MVP, 17 time All-star (most likely to be 18th), 4 time NBA Finals MVP, 15 times he has made the All-NBA team and 12 times he has made the NBA defensive teams of the year. He was the NBA rookie of the year 1997, and is 3rd in NBA Points scored in the regular and post season. He is the first and only guard in NBA history to have played 20 seasons with the same franchise.
No Doubt, his final game at Staples Centre will be emotional when the Lakers host Utah in their final regular season game. For the rest of the teams and their fans, they will be honouring Kobe when he visits them for the final time.
Lakers’ next game against Philadelphia, will be special as Kobe loves his home, and has said it’s a special team to him.