Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. There’s no question about that.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ guard has come a long way since being drafted as only a 17-year old in the 1996 NBA draft. Selected as the 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets, Bryant was the first player to be drafted straight out of high school. However, Bryant did not want to the play for the Hornets nor did Charlotte intend to keep him, and he was quickly traded to the Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac. This trade is still seen as one of the worst draft day decisions in NBA history.
Bryant struggled in his first few seasons and was mostly used as a reserve, but he eventually developed into an NBA superstar. Alongside future Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal and legendary coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers won three consecutive championships between 1999 and 2002. Despite their success, O’Neal was traded in the 2004 offseason and Coach Jackson did not return for the 2004-2005 season. The feud between O’Neal and Bryant was highly publicized by the media, and Bryant was heavily criticized for O’Neal’s and Jackson’s departures.
Nonetheless, Bryant was able to develop into the Lakers’ franchise player without O’Neal. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, the Black Mamba has countless accomplishments, including: NBA Slam Dunk Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, NBA Most Valuable Player, 17x NBA All-Star and the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer. Bryant has certainly had a decorated career with the Lakers, reestablishing a “Showtime” era Los Angeles did not have since Magic Johnson retired.
Now, at 37 years old, Bryant is long past his prime and has suffered injury after injury in his last few seasons. In the 2011-12 season, Bryant only played in 58 games for the Lakers. In three out of the previous four seasons, he played in all 82 games.
Bryant’s inability to stay healthy has drastically impacted the Lakers as well. The Lakers have not seen much success since they ousted the Boston Celtics in a thrilling seven-game 2010 NBA Finals. The following season, Los Angeles was swept in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, who went on to win the 2011 NBA championship. Coach Jackson retired after the 2010-2011 season, and the Lakers began to rebuild, resulting in the losses of former key players such as Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom.
Unfortunately, Bryant will not have a very glorious end to his career last season on his beloved Lakers will not be very memorable. The Lakers are only 4-23 to start the 2015-2016 season, and their chances of reaching the playoffs in the near future are very slim. Bryant is far from his MVP form, averaging only 16.7 points per game and shooting only 33.9% from the field in his final season. Of course, NBA fans and players alike understand that these stats are not representative of all the Black Mamba had to offer to the NBA. Bryant will be remembered for his work ethic, dedication, and loyalty to the game of basketball.
In a heartfelt poem Bryant wrote for the Players’ Tribune titled “Dear Basketball,” he describes his love for the game of basketball, but also writes that his body cannot endure another NBA season. “You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream and I’ll always love you for it,” Bryant wrote. “My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
Bryant’s legacy is recognized in the Brooklyn College community as well. Rich Micallef, the head coach of the Men’s Basketball team, describes Bryant as a “mentor and ambassador to all who have come through the league.” Alex Lang, the head coach of the Women’s Basketball team, is about the same age as Bryant, and has followed the Bryant throughout the Laker guard’s entire career. Lang remembers when Bryant first came into the NBA as a teenager who showed flashes of becoming a superstar. In accordance with Micallef that Bryant was one of the greatest players ever, Lang does not think the NBA will change much because rising stars such as Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant will make up for the absence of Bryant.
Indeed, the loss of Bryant may be offset with the rise of the stars of today, but no one will be able to beat the tenacity, determination, and hard work Bryant put into every game he played.