Kobe Bryant will play his last game on Wednesday. It's hard to believe. I still remember Kobe Bryant, the rookie who heaved up 3 air-balls as a rookie when the Lakers lost to the Jazz in the 1996 playoffs - a time when nobody else on the team wanted the responsibility or had the guts to take the last shot.
I still remember...
- the 1998 All Star Game at Madison Square Garden where Kobe faced off with Jordan in an epic dual where everybody (including other players in the game) became fans just like the rest of us.
- Game 7 of the 2000 Playoffs when the Lakers staged an epic comeback in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trailblazers, capped off by Kobe driving the lane and tossing up an alley-oop dunk to Shaq.
- Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals where an injured Kobe took over after Shaq had fouled out to put the Lakers up 3-1 in what would turn out to be the first championship of a three-peat.
- The 2001 playoffs where Kobe went of an absolute terror as the Lakers swept through the Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs to reach the NBA Finals, where they defeated the 76'ers 4-1 to cap a 15-1 playoff record.
- The poise Kobe showed in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals where the Lakers went to Sacramento and won a pivotal overtime game - a true classic.
- The dismantlement of the Lakers following the 2003 NBA Western Conference Semi-Final defeat to the San Antonio Spurs, which started with the trading of Shaq to Miami.
- Kobe Bryant - the accused rapist who lost control of himself and found himself a universally disliked player and person around the league.
- Kobe hitting 2 near-impossible 3-pointers in the final game of the 2004 regular season against the Portland Trailblazers to secure the Lakers the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
- The 'lost' years when Kobe was disgruntled with the team's inability to put adequate talent around him to give him a chance at another championship run.
- The return of Phil Jackson to the Lakers - a move that Kobe would later candidly admit he was 'hesitant' about.
- The re-birth of the Lakers' championship form with the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies - the Lakers would go on to the NBA Finals, only to fall to Boston Celtics in 6 games.
- The two championships that the Lakers won in 2009 and 2010 with Kobe as true leader with Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher playing huge supporting roles.
- Kobe Bryant - the wise and mature player who gave his heart (and his body) to the Lakers in what will now be seen as the 'twilight years'.
Kobe Bryant is an amazing athlete - one of the greatest to ever play the game. Ever since he announced his plans for retirement, we have seen just how much he is loved both by his peers and by fans worldwide. The cocky kid from Philly turned us off, but he ended up captivating us with an incredible work ethic and a true passion for one thing: winning. Was Kobe Bryant the next Michael Jordan? No. He didn't have to be and he wasn't. Kobe has created his own legacy and just as with Jordan, we'll always be searching for the next Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant entertained and he will be missed.