End of An Era: Kobe Bryant to Retire
The year was 1998.
My family was crowded around the television watching the NBA finals and they were at it again. Michael and Scottie were wrapping up another NBA Championship over the Utah Jazz. Unknown to a much younger version of YA BOY, he was witnessing the pinnacle of 90’s basketball greatness.
Mike would win yet another MVP. Scottie would get yelled at through the TV for each and every bad Bulls play. Dennis Rodman would try to fight Karl Malone. Life was good. It felt like this would never happen again.
Michael would retire on top of the game and leave the basketball world in the hands young talents such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson…. and this guy from Philly named Kobe Bryant.
Michael would attempt a comeback between 2001 and 2003 but it wasn’t to be. The game was Iverson’s. The game was Vince’s. The game was Kobe’s.
I don’t have to run down his career accomplishments or make this article extra long. Between the year 2000 and 2008 the NBA belonged to Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. If you weren’t on a team with one of the two you didn’t win chips. Its just how it went.
The year was 2008.
I was now in college, struggling to watch the Lakers and Celtics fight through a grueling six game series on my laptop via a stream from the FirstRow. It wasn’t to be as the Celtics’ Big Three got it done and Kevin Garnett finally won the title that eluded him. Yes, anything was possible but it didn’t feel right. The Lakers were out-powered, out-manned, just out-toughed by the Garnett anchored team. In uncharacteristic fashion Kobe Bryant’s Lakers team lost game six by 39 points 131-92.
The Lakers would comeback to win the 2009 title over an Orlando team that just didn’t have the talent to match with Los Angeles. 2010 would be the true test with a Celtics rematch. One of the big differences was that this version of the Lakers now featured the scrappy Ron Artest who was a kindred spirit to Kobe’s mentality.
In the final minutes of the closing game seven, Kobe willed himself over the Celtics.
Heading into the final minute of the game, good ol’ Ron Artest caught a well placed pass from Kobe and drilled a clutch three pointer.
The Lakers lead extended to six. Boston never recovered. Its arguable they never recovered as a franchise as well.
Kobe had done it. He won number five, the championship that broke the tie with former teammate Shaquille O’neal and put Kobe on hollowed ground behind His Airness.
Kobe celebrated by jumping on the announcer table and flailing his arms eerily similar to Michael Jordan. It was as if he knew championship six would come. If there was a time to tell the world that he was his generation’s Mike, this was it and he had no problem doing it.
Kobe established himself as the ultra alpha dog during his time in the league. Even after legal issues, losing his squeaky clean public image, and feuding with Shaq, Kobe showed a dominance that only was matched by His Airness himself. Kobe would take five titles between 2000 and 2009 in between down years in which Bryant dragged a team featuring Kwame Brown and Smush Parker to the playoffs. He even scored 81 points in a game. Whassup, Jalen!
With Kobe’s exit the NBA has closed an era. The legendary 1996 draft class is gone. The game is now in the hands of Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and to a smaller degree the now 31 year old Lebron James.
So many tried to fill Jordan’s shoes and only one man came close while also carving his own lane. We may never see another Kobe and that isn’t a bad thing. Legends are to be celebrated not recreated. Kobe isn’t Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan wasn’t Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant was the first Kobe Bryant and we were truly privileged to witness it.
Hat’s off to a healthy retirement Black Mamba.