WRITTEN BY: GRIFFIN ASELTINE | STAFF WRITER
With fewer two weeks remaining in the NBA regular season, much discussion is focused on the playoff field, the state and surrounding conditions of each of the championship contenders, and whether the Golden State Warriors will be able to rewrite the history books with the best record in single-season history.
But there is one spotlight regarding the star of a non-playoff team that has America up on their feet.
It all started in 1996. Straight out of Lower Merion High School, he was only 17 years old, but he became the fifth player in NBA history drafted out of high school, and the first officially drafted as a minor. Despite the young start, his flourishing career would become one of the most iconic in all of American professional sports.
On November 29, 2015, legendary shooting guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers announced that he will officially retire at the conclusion of the season. The five-time champion has spent all 20 of his seasons at the professional level with the Lakers, the most any individual player has remained with a single franchise. His legacy has been historically recognized by fans and sports analysts alike. Bryant’s 18 All-Star selections is the second-highest in league history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19). He is tied with Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan for most All-NBA Team selections (15) and has the most NBA All-Defensive First Team Selections with Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton, and Michael Jordan (nine). He received the NBA MVP Award in 2008, and when the Lakers won back-to- back championships in 2009 and 2010, Bryant was voted Finals MVP for both contests.
His career statistics also tell much of the story. With 33,464 career points, Bryant ranks third behind Karl Malone (36,928) and Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). He led the league in scoring for both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, and in a January 22, 2006 home game against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant scored 81 points, the second-highest single-game total behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. With 7,028 rebounds, 6,295 assists, 1,933 steals, and 639 blocked shots, Bryant is considered to not just one of the highest scorers of all-time, but one of the most complete players who was capable of succeeding in every statistical category.
To top it all off, Bryant won gold medals with Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.
Unfortunately, over the past three seasons, injuries have brought Bryant’s career to a screeching halt. These included an Achilles tear, a rotator cuff tear and a calf injury. Those same three years, the Los Angeles Lakers suffered arguably their worst stretch in franchise history, winning fewer than one-fourth of their regular season games.
While Kobe Bryant’s retirement is bittersweet news for the NBA, it was simply inevitable. Nonetheless, Bryant will ultimately go down as one of the best players in all of basketball. While many will still likely consider Michael Jordan the best of all time, Bryant certainly isn’t far behind.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOXSPORTS.COM