The Legacy of Kobe Bryant

It was April 29, 1996. Seemed like a normal day for many people, but not for this one 17 year old who went to Lower Merion High School in Philly. On this day, a 6’6 senior decided that he would skip college to enter the draft for the NBA. A task that seems absurd to many was taken on by a brave teenager who went by the name of Kobe Bean Bryant.

Kobe was the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft that was filled with star studded talent, such as Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and Ray Allen, just to name a few. Though Kobe was considered a kid amongst all the veterans in the league, he certainly did not play like one. His work-ethic and drive to be the greatest player to ever touch the hardwood would propel him into becoming into, what many may call him, the closest thing to Michael Jordan, who is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time.

When Kobe was first drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, he didn’t get to play a single game with the team. Instead, he got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers before the 1996-1997 season even started. This trade would be one that would change the Lakers franchise for the next two decades. In just Kobe’s fourth season in the league, he, along with NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal, would bring the Lakers a championship during the 1999-2000 season. With Kobe’s career still blossoming at a young age, it seemed inevitable that he would bring more championships to the franchise. For the next 2 seasons he and his All-Star teammate Shaquille, or better known as Shaq, would dominate and capture 2 more titles. The two would acquire a three-peat, or three consecutive championship titles. From 2000 to 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers, along with Kobe, stood on top of the basketball world as they dominated for three years in a row, with Kobe still at a considerably young age to bring even more titles to the franchise. Though it may seem logical that the Lakers would win for the fourth year in a row, it never came together. In fact, Kobe and the Lakers wouldn’t win a title for a couple years to come.

Due to conflicts between Shaq and Kobe, a duo that seemed to be unstoppable at one point, Shaquille was traded to the Miami Heat at the end of the 2004 NBA season, ending the Shaq and Kobe era. After the trade, Kobe was a lone wolf, as he was the only all star on a Lakers franchise that has been used to winning championships. At this point in Kobe’s career, he was tested to see if he could fulfil his dream of chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan.

With Kobe entering his physical prime in 2004 to 2006, he would put up staggering numbers to show that he was the face of the NBA. So staggering, in fact, that on January 22, 2006, Kobe had the second best scoring performance in NBA history with 81 points in a game versus the Toronto Raptors. In that same season, he averaged 35.4 points per game, which was, by far, the highest average points per game in the league, and was the 8th highest points per game average of all time.  

Though young and talented, Kobe would not be able to propel his team to reclaim the throne of champions for years to come. Though he put up such great numbers and was already considered one of the greatest players of all time, his team struggled to win games. From 2005 to 2007, Kobe and his team never made it past the first round of the playoffs. On top of that, his team would barely make the cut into the playoffs.

After the 2007 season, Kobe had enough. He demanded the Lakers front office to trade him as he put so much effort into winning throughout the past couple seasons, but the team did not have enough talent to do so. Ultimately, the front office acquired all star Pau Gasol and a few more assets to the team. This led Kobe to stay with the franchise he has been with ever since he was a kid back in ‘96. With a new group of players and a refocused mindset, Kobe Bryant was ready to contend with his Lakers team once again.

In the 2007-2008 season, the first year with Gasol, the Lakers were able to make it back to the long awaited promised land, the NBA Finals. The matchup was the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, a rivalry that has dated back all the way to the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. What better way to reclaim the throne than to get it against a long time rival. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way for Kobe and the Lakers. They fell short 4-2 against a star studded Boston team that left a bitter taste in Bryant’s mouth.

Fueled by the loss, Kobe would bring his team back to the Finals the very next season. This time, the Lakers would finish their business against the Orlando Magic, and would sit on top of the basketball world once again in 2009. At this point in Kobe’s career, there was no questioning that he was one of the all time greats. Although, Michael Jordan had 6 titles throughout his career. Kobe only had 4 at the time. But, he was not done yet.

In 2010, he and the Lakers, yet again, make it to the Finals for the third time in three years. Looking to reclaim the throne in back to back seasons, the Lakers faced a familiar squad. The matchup would, yet again, be the Lakers and the Celtics. Throughout the series, the result would seem like it would be similar to before. After 5 games in, the Celtics were up 3-2, just one win away from beating the Lakers, and beating them 4-2 once again. Not willing to lose to their rivals yet again, Kobe and his team willed their way to win the next 2 games and reclaimed the throne of basketball champions. Kobe, with 5 rings under his belt, was on top of the basketball world yet again, showing that he is one of the best to ever play the game.

After the championship thriller, the Lakers started to slowly drift out of the limelight. Year after year, they would exit out of the playoffs earlier and earlier.  

During the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers struggled to win games, even though they had a star studded team that was acquired from trades. Embarrassed by this, Kobe promised the fans that the team would make it to the playoffs that season. At 34 years of age, Kobe would push his body to the absolute limit by playing almost entire games, just to propel them to victory.

The last month of that season was exhausting and depleting to such an aged player. He was like a shooting star that was losing its fuel. He was like a man possessed during that month. Game after game, night after night, he would play tirelessly. So tirelessly, in fact, that his teammate at the time, Antawn Jamison, a 14 year veteran, saw Kobe after a game during his “possessed” stretch of games and said that he never saw anyone so exhausted. He tried to ask if Kobe was alright while Kobe could barely speak. But Kobe kept doing this night after night, and nobody would stop him. The Lakers’ trainer, Gary Vitti said, “I think if Jesus came down and said, ‘Kobe, you can’t do this,’ Kobe probably would’ve said something like, ‘Why don’t you stick to making water into wine and raising people from the dead, and I’ll take care of this basketball thing.’” The only person that could stop Kobe was Kobe.

On April 12, 2013, the Los Angeles Lakers were up against the Golden State Warriors. With just 3 games left in the season until the playoffs started, the Lakers were on the border of not making the playoffs. The team was treading on thin ice, so Kobe, like he always has, will go all out and give every bit of ounce of energy into the game. It was a close game all throughout, and Kobe was spectacular, as he has been for the weeks leading up to this. Although, there was an eery thought on how much longer can Kobe keep this up. At 34 years of age, his body did not work the same way as it did when he was 17. This game went on to prove that.

In the beginning of the third quarter, Bryant collided his left knee into Warriors player, Festus Ezeli. The whole arena was shocked, as they had the eery feeling that Kobe was hitting his limit.  He went down and held onto his knee in pain. The frustration and agony was in his face, not wanting to miss the playoffs after promising his fans. He would take a minute to get back up, and yet again, do what Kobe does. After playing 4:30 more minutes of basketball, he would drive the lane, and land awkwardly on his right foot, limping to the other side of the court. He was hitting his limit, but he kept pushing forward to play. Many felt that he should stop playing as everyone knew that he has been exhausting himself game after game.

It was the 4th quarter, 3:10 left in the game. Kobe attempted to drive into the lane, and he suddenly collapsed forward, immediately holding onto his left foot. Television channels replayed the fall in many different angle, trying to see what made him collapse. Angle after angle, there was no clear cut reason why he fell. Players tried to pick up him, but he just couldn’t seem to walk. At the moment that Kobe fell, he knew that he tore his achilles, claiming that he felt the tendon roll up the back of his foot. With him knowing that on the spot, he tried to roll the tendon back down. He tried to see if he could walk with a torn achilles. He tried everything he could to keep playing. This was an injury that has been known to end many athletes’ careers. And with Kobe’s age and the amount of minutes he has played in his career, this was something he couldn’t will his way through, as the shooting star’s fuel just ran out.

As Kobe pushed through the next couple injury-riddled seasons, his play decreased year after year, until it got to the point where enough was enough. On April 13, 2016, Kobe Bryant would play his final NBA basketball game, where he would give it his all, and leave everything on the court. He would go out in the most Kobe way possible, ending the game with 60 points, something that no one has ever done at his age.

In the end, Bryant left an impact both on and off the court through his hard work and dedication. That is something I take away from him and his legacy. He showed everywhere where hard work can get people. It gives me hope that I be whatever I want if I put my mind and time to it, just as he did as a 17 year old senior in high school. And after 20 years in the league, 18 all star selections, 5 championship rings, one MVP award, and being third all-time leading scorer in the NBA, just to name a few of his accolades, Kobe will go down as one of the greatest to ever touch a basketball.

Thank you, Mr. Bryant.