20 seasons, 18 All-Star selections, 15 All-NBA selections, 5 championships, 1 team. He's scored over 33,000 career points, holds 17+ Laker records, 9 NBA records, and is arguably the most polarizing force in NBA history. He was my Michael Jordan.
The Kobe Bryant epic has written its last chapter. 60 points on 50 shot attempts was the final page. It's the perfect game to define his career. All the Kobe fans like myself will look at the 60 points, and call it the walk off of all walk off's. His detractors will point to the volume of shots and lack of elite efficiency. It's literally the story of Kobe's career.
For years now, Kobe's body of work(and peak) have varied among NBA aficionados, ranging anywhere from second or third, to even outside of the top ten.
To some, Kobe's career can only be summarized in one word. "Dominance". To others, he was a selfish, narcissistic, egomaniac who ran off fellow superstars and coaches alike. To me, it's the former.
Kobe is as misunderstood as they come. He comes off across an egotistical maniac, with borderline psychopathic tendencies. But, his relentless pursuit of victory was unmatched by his peers. In fact, his passion and love for the game may be greater than any legend we've ever seen.
You can find stories throughout his career that were testaments to his dedication. From dripping with sweat before 5 A.M, getting to the gym and putting up shots during the USA gold medal run in '08, practicing without basketballs, to showing up before anyone else to practice, even when he was hurt. Even playing one on one games to 100 with teammates after practice. His work ethic is second to none.
Champion Legacy: The Blood, Sweat & Tears
The(literal) blood, sweat and tears paid off to the fullest. His NBA resume can be compared to anyone, and his individual and team accomplishment are absolutely impeccable.
Love him or hate him, his accolades speak for themselves. Scoring tittles, All-Defensive selections, All-NBA selections, All-Star game MVP's, finals MVP's, league MVPs, and of course, the championships.
Leaving us with some of the most memorable performances in NBA history. The largest comeback in Western Conference history, 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, and finally 60 big ones for in his encore.
He never took shortcuts. He never gave up, even when the situation seemed hopeless. He used the lows to get back top the top. In the '98 playoffs, when he air balled four fourth quarter shots against Utah in an elimination game, he came back stronger the next year, doubled his averages and became an All-Star. Then a champion the year after that. In '06 when the Suns rallied back from 3-1 deficit, he changed his number, won an MVP two seasons later and won another championship the year after that.
After dragging his team into the playoffs at 35 to the point where his body literally couldn't take it and he suffered three straight season-ending injuries. He didn't retire. He didn't quit on the Lakers for a contender to chase rings. He came back each time, despite standing over the precipice of retirement, to give the Lakers fans one last ride.
Despite the never-ending criticism he's received over the years, his peers and predecessors recognize he's greatness.
"He's the only who put in the work to be compared to me." said Michael Jordan
"He's the greatest Laker of all time." proclaimed Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal
Tracy McGrady has adamantly stated that Kobe is the best player he's ever faced. Those who have played the game before, after, and against all realize what he's done for the game and how truly amazing he was on the court.
I debated on whether to make this a Kobe tribute - an in-depth overview of his career from start to finish, or even a soliloquy on why he's one of the five greatest players the game has ever seen. Maybe next time. For now, we'll leave it with something that had a little of everything. Something that didn't just highlight the good, but the bad he endured along the way. Not just the success, but the hard work that came with it.
He competed every single night and never cheated the game. He played through injuries that average players would miss weeks with. He changed the way I looked at the sport. And, he gave me, and millions of others, a reason to love basketball.
April 13th, 2016: One of the greatest careers in sports history has come to a close. Thank you Kobe.