Ko-be! Ko-be! Ko-be!
Fans of Kobe Bryant filled the Toyota Center with yellow Laker jerseys as “Kobe” chants could be heard throughout the duration of what would be his final appearance in Houston as an NBA player. As a 5-time NBA Champion, 18-time All-Star, with 12 all-defense citations, 7 NBA Final appearances, 2 Olympic gold medals, and the list goes on and on… there is nothing left to prove. Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the greatest NBA players of all-time.
November 29, 2015, Kobe penned a letter announcing his retirement explaining that, “This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.” His retirement marks the end of an era of basketball. His loyalty to the Lakers franchise, having spent all twenty seasons of his career with them, is a rarity.
Kobe will hang up his #24 Lakers jersey and pack up his Nike sneaks on Wednesday, April 13, at the Staples Center in his hometown of Los Angeles. He rounded the corner to the finish line of his NBA career in his third to last game against the Rockets. Though the Lakers fell to the Rockets 130 – 110, the fans who came out in droves to see Kobe one last time got to witness the “Black Mamba” strike once more. The Lakers were clearly not in contention for any titles after the lackluster season they had and prior to the Houston match-up it seemed as if Kobe was coasting to the finish line going through the motions. He put in his minutes and graciously received the pre-game tributes and standing ovations across the nation. It is unclear as to why Kobe picked up the momentum during the Rockets match-up and put 35 points on the board, with a mix of makes and misses, but it was certainly what the fans hoped to see. His performance was reminiscent of a pre-injured Kobe Bryant. (The Kobe who once dropped 81 points in a single game or the Kobe who had four consecutive 50-point performances.)
Perhaps it was the host of players who came out to support him including Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, Calvin Murphy and Steve Francis. Perhaps it was James Harden who got into his groove with a 40-point game and was likely energized to play at top form, playing against Kobe one last time.
Kobe has been a polarizing figure from the time he entered the NBA. Love him or hate him, his obsession with basketball, relentless desire to win, intensity, capability of playing through pain, work ethic and his drive goes unmatched. He studied the game, he emulated the best (Michael Jordan), and most impressively, managed to remain a force to be reckoned with throughout the duration of his career.
The reoccurring images of Kobe sitting on the sidelines mummified with ice, was a clear indication that due to injury, his best days were behind him.
When asked about how he feels embarking on this new chapter in his life, Kobe said, “I’m thankful. I’m not sad at all. I left no stone unturned. I gave everything to the game for 20 years in the NBA and more before that. So I feel very thankful to be able to play this game this long.”
When Kobe entered the league nearly 20 years ago, he faced off against who he claimed to be the greatest competitor and his childhood hero, Michael Jordan and he never looked back. So it is no surprise that as he toured the country this final season, players who liken him to Jordan paid homage and respect to him in the same way.
As with most things, it will take time to fully understand what Kobe Bryant brought to the game of basketball. Until then, thanks for the memories.