Sonny’s Side Note: Farewell to a legend
The era of Kobe Bean Bryant came to a close on April 13 after two decades of unforgettable plays and memories. Bryant was only the sixth player in the National Basketball League’s (NBA) history to declare for the draft straight out of high school, when he made his announcement in 1996, then burst onto the national spotlight.
At only 17 years old, Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with 13th pick, but the pick belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers, who were waiting with open arms and started to build their franchise around him. Bryant broke many records including youngest player to play in a game and youngest starter. In 1997 alone he became the youngest winner of the Slam Dunk Contest, a record that still holds today, and also earned himself a spot on the NBA All-Rookie second team.
That was only the start to the his legendary career.
By the time Bryant could vote, he was playing on the All-Star team. In 1998, he became the youngest player to be welcomed to that team while also finishing second in Sixth Man of the Year voting. The Lakers were confident in their premiere guard and they traded their starting guards, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel, while extending Bryant’s contract for six more years and giving him $70 million more dollars. This left Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant to form a dynamic duo. This pair under the direction of Phil Jackson, the new coach who won six championships with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 90s, went on to become sensational and irreplaceable.
After O’Neal won Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Bryant won a spot on the All-NBA Second Team and All NBA Defensive Team in 2000, the Lakers won their first championship since 1988. Bryant kept his spot on the All-NBA Defensive Team for two more years and was also bumped up to All-NBA First Team in 2002.
The Lakers won the championship every season from 2000-2002.
But this pair, although dynamic, began to separate. Tensions between O’Neal and Bryant surfaced after the duo won three consecutive championships and neither wanted to play second fiddle. This disagreement affected team chemistry and led to a bitter end of their so-called era.
Even though All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton were brought in to give the team more experienced players, the Lakers lost in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. O’Neal was shipped out to Miami that offseason and the team failed to make the playoffs with subpar players surrounding Bryant in 2005.
While this may have been not so good for the Lakers as a team, this two-year low was just what Bryant needed.
2006 was definitely the most historic year of Bryant’s 20. Phil Jackson was back at the helm, and his illustrious career was back on track. On December 20, 2005, the “Black Mamba” outscored the Dallas Mavericks whole team through three quarters, beating them 62-61. What is remarkable about this is that he was the first player to do it since the shot clock was introduced in 1954. Later that season on January 22, 2006, he would explode for a career high of 81 points. This is second highest point total in a game (behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points set in 1962).
In the 2007 season, Bryant changed his jersey number from 8 to 24, the number he sported in high school. He finished that season with ten 50+ points per games and his second highest career high total, 65 points in a game. After signing All-Star Pau Gasol, the Lakers went on to have the best record in the West, 57-25, in 2008. The campaign was headlined by Bryant, who won his first MVP trophy with 82 out of 126 possible first places votes.
His team went to the NBA finals, but lost in six games to the Boston Celtics.
Bryant and Co. marched into the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic boasting a record of 65-17, the best in the West in 2009. The Lakers finished off the Magic in five games and Bryant was awarded NBA Finals MVP along with his fourth championship.
Needless to say, he was still going strong.
Bryant didn’t make as much noise as previous years until the 2011 season when he signed a lucrative three year extension worth $87 million. He also earned his second NBA Finals MVP along with his fifth championship after defeating the Boston Celtics in seven games, saying that it was the most satisfying of the five.
In the last few years of his career, Bryant would try to obtain a sixth championship to match Jordan’s career total. He was unsuccessful in this mission. After Jackson retired, the Lakers couldn’t find a stable coach along with a stable roster, even after All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash came to LA.
Bryant tore his achilles in 2013, ended his season in 2014 for more rehab and suffered a rotator cuff tear in 2015. These became roadblocks that made the importance of a sixth championship diminish. Last year, he announced that the 2016 season would be his last. During this season, he hoped to teach younger Lakers all he could and give fans all around the NBA one more Mamba-filled season.
“My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye. And that’s OK. I’m ready to let you go,” Bryant said when announcing his retirement.
The boos that Bryant heard in years past at opposing arenas turned into cheers for the legacy he left each time he played his final away game. Fans ensured that he would go out on top.
That showed when he finished with 1.9 million votes to start in his 18th and final All-Star game.
April 13 was the last time that Kobe Bryant would step on to the Staples Center court. Ticket prices to watch him play his last game were incredibly high, but that’s the cost of seeing a legend play. He scored 60 points, 22-50 shots and led the team to victory over the Jazz with a final score of 101-96.
His last words to the crowd were “Mamba out.”
Everyone respected his game and the amount of time he put into achieving his goals. Bryant was hated by many fans and players in the league during his 20-year career, but that hate came from jealously over his talent and the fact that he broke so many hearts while on the court.
MVP. All-Star. All-NBA. Champion. Laker. All of these accolades are symbols of Bryant’s success and prove that the Black Mamba’s legacy will never be forgotten.