The End of An Era

by Tyler Roaix

In 1996, a high school kid named Kobe Bean Bryant from Pennsylvania burst onto the NBA scene and took the league by the hand. On Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant will finally let go, as his 20th and final season comes to an end.

In the last two decades he has been called many names. Why? Maybe it’s because he’s the kind of player who grits his teeth in a way that terrifies you. Maybe it’s because in even the toughest spots, you still know he’s going to beat you. Maybe it’s simply because he is that good. Either way, it’s been obvious from the very start that he was something special.

Sustaining an unprecedented level of success for 20 consecutive seasons with the most storied franchise in NBA history, Bryant has remained dominant, despite consistently competing against rosters of talented superstars and future Hall-of-Famers. Bryant’s legacy has transcended eras, adding timeless chapters to an iconic dynasty previously defined by legendary names such as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West. Combining relentless tenacity, intense focus and an unmatched will to win, Kobe not only pushed every player who shared the roster to be the best, he undoubtedly enhanced the energy and excitement that propelled the NBA.

After reaching the level of a legitimate superstar in just his fourth season, the eventual five-time champion kept getting better, continuously improving new parts of his game each summer. In a way, Bryant sort of lacks a true prime. That’s not a bad thing. His game never stopped evolving, and before his Achilles’ heel popped in 2013, it was perfectly reasonable to equate Bryant with immortality.

Of course, he is not immortal. In fact, it’s easy to argue that Bryant has actually played too long. The last three years, he has suffered injuries that shortened his season. Now he’s playing on a Lakers team that is putting up the worst record in franchise history. Amid drama and speculation, Bryant is quietly having a solid year, averaging a modest 17 points per game.

Bryant’s 2005-06 campaign stands as his finest statistical season and one of the most impressive years any player has ever had, averaging 35.4 points per game, making 45 percent of his shots and scoring at least 50 points six times. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain ever totaled more points in one year. Despite zero, the Lakers still won 45 games and finished with the eighth best offense in the league. Bryant also managed to score 81 points in one game against the Toronto Raptors that season. Kobe: a miracle worker.

After five championships, an MVP award, 15 All-Star appearances, and some of the most memorable performances in NBA history, it’s hard to deny that Bryant is one of the most legendary players ever. Magic Johnson himself called Bryant the best Laker of all time. But it is his heart and tenacity that make him one of the greats.

“Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game,” said Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, according to a statement to AP.

“My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” said Bryant in a statement to the Player’s Tribune.

Those are the words of an icon that has devoted his entire life to a game he loves. Bryant loves basketball in a way that seems almost unimaginable. But he simply has nothing left in the tank.

I grew up watching Bryant win championships and make opponents look just flat out silly. He was the reason I became a basketball fan. He was the man I was inspired by and the player I pretended to be.

As a basketball fan, to see a true sports icon ride off into the sunset leaves me with a sort of emptiness. Bryant is basketball, and basketball is Bryant. The idea of the two not going hand-in-hand any longer just doesn’t make sense. His retirement leaves a void that LeBron James or even Stephen Curry couldn’t fill. I’ll always love the game of basketball, but it will never be the same again.

Kobe Bryant the basketball player is retiring, but to me, there is something beyond that which remains and can’t be defeated by Father Time. The “Mamba Mentality” will live forever in myself as well as millions of others and the mark this man has left on the game will never ever be forgotten.