Kobe Bryant: End of an era

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Last week, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from the game of basketball. Bryant was drafted 13th overall in the 1996 draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers minutes after being drafted.

Bryant is the only basketball player to play for the same franchise for 20 seasons. I was roughly one and a half years old when Bryant was drafted. Generations before me fell in love with the likes of Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan and Julius “Dr. J” Erving. I fell in love with Bryant.

Why did I pick Bryant to represent the game of basketball? Well, as a child, I really was awful at basketball. But I loved watching it. I was drawn to the game. I just had to pick a favorite player, so why not pick someone with the same last name as mine? Seriously, that’s the reason I followed his career at first.

I would often take my Nintendo GameCube and go to my grandma’s house, always with a copy of NBA Courtside 2002, select the Los Angeles Lakers, and score as many points as humanly possible with Kobe Bryant. I would do that for hours.

His career has been a long one, filled with criticism and success. Most people view Bryant as a selfish player, a ball-hog. He will retire averaging 4.77 assists per game, which isn’t far behind Michael Jordan’s 5.11 average. Kobe has had 134 40-point games, which means that he scores 40 points in 10 percent of his games.

When he retires, Bryant will be the Lakers’ all-time leader in points, games, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, field goals missed, three-point field goals, three-point field goals attempted, free throws made, free throws attempted, steals and turnovers. And he may be the first player to have two separate jersey numbers (Nos. 8 and 24) retired by the same team.

His retirement has been a long time coming. Injuries have slowed down the prolific shooting guard. He isn’t the same Bryant that he was back when he was rockin’ the No. 8 jersey and afro. He’s now 37 years old, an old man in the NBA. I knew this day was coming, but after he announced it, it became surreal.

On the day of this publication, I will be two days away from turning 21 years old. I don’t know what the game of basketball is without Bryant. My entire life, I have known that he is the best player in the NBA. Some people argue LeBron James is, but my opinion has never changed. He’s all I’ve known about the game of basketball, and sure, I know a lot more now that I’ve grown up and understand the game a lot better. But it all started with him.

Last week, Bryant wrote a poem announcing his retirement from the sport that appeared to crash the Players Tribune website: “I’m ready to let you go. / I want you to know now / So we both can savor every moment we have left together. / The good and the bad. / We have given each other / All that we have.”

The legacy that Bryant has left on the entire game of basketball is one that should be talked about until the end of time. Twenty seasons with the Lakers. 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. A five-time NBA Champion. Twelve-time All-Defensive Team. Seventeen-time NBA All Star. Eleven first-team All NBA selections, which is tied for the most ever. First ballot Hall of Famer.

However, there will only ever be one Kobe Bryant.