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Kobe’s Departure: Reflecting on 20 Years of Greatness

Jarrett Bailey, Sports Writer

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Shortly after the start of the NBA season, Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant announced that this season would be his last in the NBA. This doesn’t really come as a surprise; Kobe’s numbers have been down the past few seasons and injuries have taken their toll on him as well. Nevertheless, Kobe will go down as one of the top 10 players to ever play the game of basketball. After 20 seasons, 5 NBA Championships, 2 Finals MVP’s, 18 All-Star selections, 11 NBA 1st-team selections, and a collection of unforgettable moments that I’m pretty sure nobody has an exact number to represent, Bryant will definitely be leaving behind of the greatest legacy in the history of sports. So, in tribute to his departure, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on Kobe’s career, one great moment at a time.

It all started on Draft Day, 1996 when the Charlotte Hornets took Kobe with the 13th overall pick out of Lower Merion High School, making him the first guard in NBA history to be taken straight out of high school. The Hornets then made a decision they would live to regret forever, as they traded the rights of Kobe Bryant to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, a proven, but aged, big man.

Kobe came off the bench for most of his rookie season, averaging about 15.5 minutes per game. At the time, he was the youngest player to ever play in an NBA game, coming in to give breaks to All-Star guards Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. During All-Star weekend, he won the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest, becoming the youngest ever to win the competition. The Lakers would go on to the playoffs that season, where they were eliminated in the second round by the Jazz, who represented the West in the Finals that season. The following year, Kobe’s scoring average reached over 15 PPG, earning his first All-Star appearance and 2nd place in the “Sixth Man of the Year” Award. The next season, Bryant jumped into a starting roll in a lockout-shortened season. With Jones and Van Exel gone, Kobe became the go-to guy and earned a contract extension through 2004.

From 1999-2002, the Lakers won 3 straight titles. During this time, Kobe was named to the All-NBA Team and All-Defensive Team in all three seasons, was an All-Star three times, and won his first All-Star MVP Award. His numbers jumped to superstar status, and teammate Shaquille O’Neal declared him the best player in the NBA. Even though Kobe earned this praise from Shaq, tensions would surface between the two through the rest of their time together in Los Angeles, leading to the trading of O’Neal to the Heat in 2004.

The Lakers would miss the playoffs in 2004-05, going 34-48; but 2005 would prove to be a season to remember for Kobe. He scored 81 points against the Raptors, setting a franchise record for points in a game and his performance is still second all-time in points scored in a game. Later that year, he scored 45 points in four consecutive games, becoming the first player to do so since 1964. He won the NBA scoring title that year with a 35.4 PPG average. He set franchise records for most 40+ point games with 27, and most points with 2,832. He finished 4th in MVP voting that season. The next season, he was still on top. He scored 50+ points in four straight games, and scored a season-high 65 against Portland. The Lakers would go on to be eliminated by the Suns in the playoffs that season. Following their elimination, many started saying that without Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers couldn’t make it back to the Finals.

In 2007, Kobe won his first NBA MVP Award, and became the youngest player in history to reach 20,000 points. The Lakers finished 57-25 overall and earned the 1st playoff spot in the West, where they made it to the NBA Finals and were beat by the Celtics in 6 games.

When 2008 rolled around, it was redemption road for Kobe. The Lakers began the season at 21-3, and Bryant set the all-time record for most points in a single game at Madison Square Garden (61). He then was named to start in the All-Star Game for the 11th straight year, where he and Shaq shared the game’s MVP award. The Lakers then made it back to the Finals where they beat the Magic in 5 games, where Kobe took home MVP honors and the credit of winning a title without Shaq. The following season, Bryant became the youngest player to reach 25,000 points and would later surpass Jerry West as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. A 3 year/$87 million contract extension was given to him in April of 2010. The Lakers made it to the Finals for the third consecutive season, this time in a rematch with the Celtics, which they won in 7 games.

In 2011, Kobe continued his dominance, as he won his fourth All-Star MVP, tying Bob Petit for the most all time. By the end of the season, Kobe found himself 6th all-time in points scored. In 2012-13, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined the Lakers, and Mike Brown was hired as head coach after Phil Jackson retired. Brown was quickly fired after only five games in which the Lakers posted a record of 1-4 and Mike D’Antoni was brought in as his predecessor. That year, Kobe passed Magic Johnson as the team’s all-time steals leader, and became the youngest player to score 30,000 points, and is in a class of just four others who have done so (Michael Jordan, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin, and Karl Malone). He ended the season averaging just over 27 PPG, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. This season would prove to be the final great campaign of Bryant’s career.

The past few years have been plagued by injuries for the now 37 year old Bryant. He injured his knee in December of 2013 and was eventually ruled out for the season in March. The 2014-15 season was grueling for Kobe, as he played more minutes than anyone expected. That said, he did record two triple-doubles early on in the year and passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list, moving into third place. Bryant, though, would end up tearing his rotator cuff and needed another season-ending surgery.

In November 2015, Bryant announced that this season would be his last. Currently, he is averaging just 15.9 PPG and his Lakers are a meager 9-41. That being said, Kobe has etched two decades worth of memories into our minds and is without a doubt one of the greatest figures that the sport of basketball, and the entire world of sports, has ever seen.

 

 

 

 

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