It was no surprise when Kobe Bryant finally announced his retirement this season. The 37-year old shooting guard recently wrote a poem saying, “My heart can take the pounding, my mind can take 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.”
Kobe suffered three major injuries in the past three years and his level of play has dropped significantly. This is a competitor, a dominant conqueror only a few years removed, whose mental and physical preparation is unmatched in the game. His achievements too make him among the greatest players ever and sure to earn him a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. After playing in nearly 1,300 regular season games and 220 playoff games spanning three decades and 20 NBA seasons, Bryant has finally succumbed to physical deterioration.
This season, he is shooting a woeful 30% (the worst in his career) in a Los Angeles Lakers team that is only a shell of its former self. Yes, it is painful to see such a forever champion slowly regress and while I’m not a Kobe lover, it is only appropriate that he goes out on his own terms.
Kobe’s leaves a rich legacy that will be tough to equal. During his 2o-year career, Kobe also known as the “Black Mamba,” was a 17-time All-Star, 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team. He led the NBA in scoring twice and ranks third in the NBA’s all-time regular and postseason lists. He is the all-time leading scorer in Los Angeles and has the distinction of being with one team for the most seasons (20). If I’m not mistaken, this is the longest in all of professional sports. Knowing Kobe and his almost mindless drive to succeed, it is the MVP trophy he raised once and the five NBA championships he won that mean most. These awards validate his greatness as a player.
Outside of the tangibles, Bryant was one of the most polarizing players in the history of the game – either you love him or you hate him. On one hand, he has a huge fan base and even holds the record for most votes for an All-Star Game. I recall that he once got 28.4 million All-Star votes, the highest ever for a player. At the same time, he liked playing the villain and reveled in being booed, only to shut up fans after dagger shots.
He was also the epitome of determination, the will to succeed, and defiance. While most players would take the summers off and get back to training camp out of shape, Kobe would be hitting the gym in the offseason to make himself better. He was the first one in the gym and the last one out. His drive for success also made him a hated player, hated by his teammates. He has a few friends but almost all respect him. He defied many when he won his 4th and 5th championship ring on the downswing of his prime. He was defiant, defiant to the end, chasing that elusive 6th championship to make him at par with Michael Jordan.
In the end we can only thank him for what he has done for the sport. Thank you Kobe Bryant for the 81-point performance. Thank you for the crossovers and dunks. Thank you for the scowl and dagger looks that we all love to hate. Thank you for the highlights and buzzer beaters. Thank you for killing the dream of other teams. Thank you.