By Tyler Cagle, Sports Writer
Since his drafting in 1996, Kobe Bryant has been a transcendent force in the NBA. Starting from his rookie year when he was just 18 years old, basketball fans have witnessed the evolution of Bryant from the young, raw high-flyer of the first decade of his career to the unabashed, clutch machine of the mid 2000’s.
Yet, alas, all good things must come to an end.
Kobe Bryant is statistically one of the worst players in the NBA right now. He is shooting at a career low 30 percent from the field. His points, steals, rebounds, and assists per game are all the lowest since his sophomore year in the league.
Bryant has shot only 30% in a game once this season while also not logging a single 25-point game either. Bryant is at his absolute worst and sadly he knows it.
“I suck right now. I’m the 200th best player in the league,” said Bryant in early November.
While younger fans may know this Kobe as an injury prone, dying star in a league full of young talent, many that are old enough to know just who Kobe Bryant scoff at pundits.
Many may make the case that Kobe is the greatest player of his generation. Some would even venture to say of all time. Yet, there remains a man that is the undisputed GOAT of the NBA and his name is Michael Jordan.
Six rings, six Finals’ MVP’s, five regular season MVP’s, ten scoring titles, nine all defensive first team selections, the list goes on and on. Jordan’s accomplishments dwarf almost any other player in history but it was his tenacity, his passion that truly set him apart from the pack.
While Jordan dominated the game from his first season in 1984 all the way to his last game as a Chicago Bull in 1998, few could match his controlled anger and his fiery passion. Then Kobe Bryant came along.
At just 19 years old, Bryant’s attitude was evident. The young guard was not hesitant to call anyone out, even his own idol.
“When I have the chance to guard Michael Jordan, I want to guard him. I want him. It’s the ultimate challenge,” said Bryant in December of 1997.
Although Bryant and Jordan would share the league for only two seasons, Bryant took from Jordan as much as he could. The Jordan signature tongue-out drives, Bryant had them. The form on the turn around jumpers, Bryant mastered it. The mannerisms, the accessories, the effort, Bryant was all but a clone of Jordan.
And yet, he was still Kobe.
After the three-peat with Shaq, Bryant became not only the new alpha dog of the Lakers but of the entire league. Bryant had morphed himself from raw teenager into a scoring machine, reminiscent of Jordan’s transformation.
Kobe was never the defensive stalwart that MJ was but his defensive was well above average. From 1999 to 2010, Bryant never averaged less than 1.3 steals per game, being named to either the first or second all defensive teams. In total, Bryant has made twelve all defensive teams during his career yet most forget how good of a perimeter defender he was simply because of how great his offense was.
From the 2000-2001 season to the 2012-2013 season, Kobe Bryant was perhaps the best scorer in the NBA. During those years, Bryant averaged 28 points per game, peaking in 2005-06 with 35.4 points a night.
While his percentages have never been as efficient as Jordan’s or even his successor Lebron James’, Bryant’s ability to go off at any moment had to be respected. Bryant holds the record for the second most points scored in an NBA game with 81 against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
Bryant could score from anywhere on the court at anytime using any move. Mid range jumpers, pull up threes, baseline turn arounds, and dunks were all in his arsenal. While the dunking and bounce left his legs later in his career, the shooting never stopped, especially in the clutch.
One of the most iconic moments in the last 25 years is Bryant’s pull up jumper against the Suns in the 2006 playoffs. After sending the game into overtime, Bryant hit a pull up jumper from the elbow to win the game. This shot epitomizes Bryant; unafraid, smooth, and collected.
Father Time has unfortunately taken away from Bryant that talent he was blessed with earlier in his career. While Bryant’s last two seasons have each been cut short by injuries, he is simply not his old self anymore. His handles are gone, his shot falls short, and his legs are too slow to contend. But Bryant knows this, he knows his time is done. While his passion and love for the game is still very much alive, his body is not.
“My heart can take the pounding/ My mind can handle the grind/ But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” wrote Bryant earlier this week announcing his retirement at this season’s end.
This is truly the end of an era. With Bryant gone, the NBA will not be the same. Cherish the last moments of Bryant’s career because one thing is guaranteed:
There will never be another Kobe Bryant.