The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in their last game on 25 January. The game made headlines because of the historic achievement of LeBron James -- becoming the third all-time scorer in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
James passed Laker legend Kobe Bryant for the honour and Kobe congratulated James on Twitter.
That tweet congratulating one of his peers for surpassing him will be the last tweet that the Black Mamba would ever send.
The former 2-time Finals MVP, along with five other people, perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday, 26 January. Kobe died alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant.
Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time and makes a good case for being the best LA Lakers player ever.
He spent 20 years as part of the franchise after being drafted 13th overall in the 1996 Draft. Kobe won 5 championships across his NBA tenure and won the Finals MVP for his wins in 2009 and 2010. His impact was so great that the LA Lakers not only retired his iconic Number 24 jersey, but also his Number 8 jersey.
Kobe’s elite defensive abilities and uncanny scoring ability made him a unique player, who is still called one of the most unguardable players in NBA history. Kobe’s aggressive play style and ability to take over games made him a fan favourite even outside Laker nation.
He became a global icon for the NBA alongside former teammate Shaquille O’Neal and was lauded for his continued success, even when Shaq left the Lakers to join the Miami Heat in 2004.
This news has stunned basketball fans worldwide, as Kobe is just three seasons into retirement. He had made multiple public appearances this season, coming to Laker games at the STAPLES Centre with daughter Gianna.
While we should remember the happy Kobe that came to the Lakers recent games to support LeBron and the team, maybe the image of angry Kobe putting his all out on the court is what we should remember and immortalise.
Kobe’s aggressive scoring rate and place as the forth highest scorer of all time shouldn’t be dismissed, especially as he outranks Michael Jordan in that category.
Which Kobe fan will ever be able to forget the 81-point game that Kobe had on Jalen Rose and the Toronto Raptors in 2006? Or when he threw an alley-oop to Shaq to complete the Lakers’s 16 point comeback in the Western Conference Finals against a Portland Trailblazers team headed by Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Aryvdas Sabonis?
His 20-point performance in the gold medal match for the United States Men’s Basketball Team in the Olympics in 2008 led the Americans to reclaim their title as world champion after Argentina upset them to the gold in 2004.
Bryant’s career is filled with many more moments of sheer brilliance that will be hard to cover.
What it meant to be a Kobe Bryant fan is something that can never be explained. People rooted for Kobe just as much as they rooted for the Lakers. The Lakers haven’t made the NBA postseason since 2013, the 4th longest active playoff drought. A big reason for this were the late career injuries that essentially ended Kobe Bryant’s career in 2016. Kobe was such an individual phenomenon in a league full of stars that people rooted for the Lakers just because he was on it.
Even today, some of the biggest LeBron critics are Kobe fans that don’t think that LeBron can ever be on the same level as Kobe. Kobe has won 5 championships for the team, so can you really blame the fans for holding LeBron to such a high standard?
Kobe established the bar which separates great players from the elite. His play can only be replicated by James Harden now, a former MVP and someone who has been in the top three of MVP voting for four years, excluding his possible inclusion at the end of the current season.
It wasn’t just who Kobe was on the field, it was who he was off the field. His spirit both on and off the court was unbelievable to see. His ability to hustle the players around him into becoming champions is what truly made him elite. This is reflected in the 5 Championships he won either as the primary threat or a part of a duo with Shaq.
Be it his performance in the aforementioned game against the Portland Trailblazers or how he led the Lakers over the reigning champions Boston Celtics in 2009, Kobe has left an indomitable legacy on the court.
The 2008 MVP lived a full life and most of it was in front of public scrutiny. He never let the narrative of him not being on the same level as Shaq bother him, and proved all his doubters wrong when he won the title without Shaq in 2009 and 2010.
The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do. This is something that Kobe himself had said, and spent 20 years on the court trying to prove it. He proved it whenever it mattered most and now leaves a legacy for millions of young players to look up to him and try to replicate his success.
RIP Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)
(The author is a third-year journalism student at Symbiosis Centre for Media & Communication, Pune. A fan with a passion for writing about sports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)