There’s nothing I can say about Kobe Bryant that isn’t already in the annals of NBA history. He was such a huge part of my adolescence; I regularly watched Lakers games during middle school, high school, college, and whenever I could during graduate school. Kobe is another one of those rare individuals where I feel grateful just to be alive at the same time he is; I know for a fact that I will be telling future generations that I had the privilege to see his playing live (both on TV and directly at the Staples Center)!
I remember watching his record-breaking game against the Sonics in 2003 where he set NBA records for 3-pointers (12 in one game, 9 consecutively), another game against Houston that same year where he scored 50+ points and posterized Yao Ming on a sprained ankle, and the record-setting 81-point game in 2006 against the Raptors, among others. He led the Lakers to 5 NBA championships and has a host of NBA titles to his credit. Of course, good times come with the bad, and even the best players are not immune to that. Kobe was involved in a scandal in 2003-2004 in which he was accused of having unconsensual sex with a girl in Colorado, and this followed the gut-wrenching loss of the Lakers in the 2003 NBA finals to the Detroit Pistons, in which the Lakers squad featured Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. The “dark years” of 2004-2008 featured a Lakers team that was trying to rebuild and rediscover its identity, and Kobe, the lone superstar, trying valiantly to rally the team against all odds to a playoff berth season after season. With Pau Gasol on the roster, the Lakers made it to the NBA finals 3 more times, from 2008-2010, with championships in 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, which was a rather unfortunate sendoff for coach Phil Jackson, who led the Lakers to all of their NBA championships (Phil Jackson remains the most successful player/coach of all time, holding the NBA record for the most combined championships (13) as a player and a head coach).
Still, Kobe has that rare combination of athleticism and mental focus that makes him such a deadly athlete and competitor. I remember discussing the differences between Kobe and Michael Jordan with my friend once, and he pointed out that while Jordan had massive hands (“as big as frying pans”) that allowed him to palm the ball rather easily in order to dunk and do layups, Kobe did not have that genetic advantage; and yet, Kobe was just as deadly an opponent as Jordan was! Jordan may have had his “flu game”, but he never had an 81-point game like Kobe! Kobe Bryant is also renowned as a great “clutch” player, able to come through for the team in the last few critical moments in order to clinch victory, and this was seen tonight in the final game of his career.
Farewell, Kobe, and thanks for all the memories.