Last night Kobe Bryant played basketball in the NBA for the final time.
Kobe’s retirement is another reminder to people like me that childhood has come to an end. Players that we grew up watching and idolizing are riding off into the sunset of their athletic careers. First it was Derek Jeter, and then it was Peyton Manning. Now it is Bryant’s turn.
Over the course of a 20-year career, Bryant has reached a rare status. He has won five championship rings, scored over 33,000 points and is the Lakers all-time leading scorer. He was an 18-time all star, won the MVP award in 2008 and was named to the All-NBA First Team 11 times and the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times.
He has released countless versions of his Nike basketball shoe and apparel and his apparel is sold worldwide.
His talent on the basketball court turned him into a social icon. He has reached the rare status where he is known by just his first name, Kobe. Across America, people have yelled “Kobe” before launching ill-advised fade-away jump shots during their weekly games at the rec center, or when they are tossing a piece of paper into a trash can. Kobe was the symbol for basketball excellence in our generation.
Kobe was our generation’s closest thing to Michael Jordan. Bryant will fall short of his quest to tie Jordan’s six NBA championships, yet there is no denying that Bryant worked obsessively to win six rings. That sixth ring never came, but Bryant’s work ethic never faded even in the later years of his career when his teams sharply declined.
When thinking of Kobe it is hard to also not wonder what might have been. When he and Shaquille O’Neal won their three straight championships together, the duo looked unstoppable. After they swept the New Jersey Nets in 2002, the combination of Kobe and Shaq looked unstoppable.
We may never find out the true reasons the pair was not able to make things work together long term, but it was obvious that Kobe was never the best teammate throughout his career. As someone who was obsessed with the game of basketball and success, he openly feuded and clashed with teammates if he felt that they were getting in the way of his ultimate goal of winning.
Kobe went on to win two more championships in 2009 and 2010, but after that the championship window closed as the NBA began to shift. The Lakers never made it back to the Finals again.
Kobe’s final seasons have been disappointments filled with injuries and his inability to adjust his game to the changes of the NBA. As other NBA teams were evolving and running offenses based on ball movement and spacing, Kobe stayed the same ball-dominant guard that he has always been. In a way, it is only fitting that Kobe, the most stubborn competitor I have ever seen, still believed that he could throw the Lakers on his back at an advanced age.
Although Kobe will retire without that sixth ring, there is no denying that he is as important to the era of basketball I grew up watching as Jordan was before him. There may never be another MJ, but Kobe was the closest thing we have seen since.
Spencer Mayfield is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.