After the party atmosphere of Kobe Bryant playing his last game for the Los Angeles Lakers last night, it is perhaps when the dust has settled that we can really reflect on his career. A unique career it has been too, perhaps the last of its kind that Basketball will ever see as the sport continues to change.
Indeed, it is hard to argue that they days of a star player spending twenty seasons with a single club are gone. The money is everything nature of hoops has sparked a trade culture, and that Kobe has managed to be a Lakers faithful is amazing. The numbers fall off the page when discussing such an illustrious reign in the NBA, but it’s that twenty year legacy for which Bryant will be remembered.
Still, it is impossible to avoid the hard statistics. Twice the lead scorer in the NBA over a season, third as both regular and post season all-time scorer, the most seasons with the same team, 18 time All-Star, 15 time placement on the All-NBA team, double Olympic gold medalist, former MVP, and five time NBA championship winner. Impressive indeed, but Kobe Bryant was making history until the end, with the Staples Center making $1.2 million from Bryant merchandise yesterday, a one day record.
Let’s not forget that this was a player who started when Michael Jordan was still doing his thing, and setting a standard that has not been matched since. It’s fitting perhaps that Bryant bows out when Stephen Curry continues to emerge as a true contender to Jordan’s throne.
Not that Kobe would leave himself out of a “greatest of all time” list. His sheer consistency through twenty years of ups and downs with the Lakers ensures him a seat at the table. His last game showed how devastating Bryant can be. Yes it was a swansong affair that seen him shoot on sight throughout, but sixty points in a single game is stunning no matter the occasion. It is outrageous when you are a grandfather of the game and are playing your last contest.
Kobe Bryant was also that rare US player, a star performer and MVP who found his love for the sport in Europe and not in his homeland. It is easy to see Kobe as the all-American hero, but he feels an affinity to the European game, and has been a huge contributer into basketballs rise as a global sport.
So, basketball will miss a giant like Kobe Bryant, but his absence will be felt more in the franchise he held close to his heart for twenty years. The LA Lakers have lost their talisman to age, and the fact of the matter is, it is just about impossible to replace a player of Bryan’s skill and influence.
Kobe is moving into a new era of his life. Basketball will move on as well, it always does, but the sport will long remember the King of the Lakers. As for the LA franchise, the winningest in league history … They too move on to a bold new era.