Kobe Bryant’s retirement is a big deal. So big of a deal, in fact, that the warm reception he’s received through his retirement tour has almost made the world forget how terrible the Lakers are this season. Almost. To many, “Kobe Bryant” transcends a person; it’s the title of an American icon. His career spans 20 seasons and has yielded five NBA championships and two shared gold Olympic medals.
— NBA (@NBA) April 5, 2016
But what is Kobe’s defining moment? What legacy will he really leave behind?
For some, it will be statistics on the court. Kobe is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Lakers. He is a two-time NBA Finals MVP and an NBA Most Valuable Player. Out of 18 NBA All-Star appearances, Kobe was awarded four All-Star MVPs. In terms of NBA records, there are few superlatives he hasn’t claimed at least once, if he still doesn’t today.
Many associate Kobe with his statistics off the court as well. The $25 million salary the Lakers pay him would be enough for any other franchise to build a full line-up. He is the highest-paid player in the NBA by a hearty $4 million per year, and has drawn a bit of criticism in his quest for ever-growing contracts. Nevertheless, he will go down in history as retiring with approximately $680 million in career earnings, according to an estimate by Forbes.
Of course, wherever there is success, there is controversy, and Kobe will undoubtedly be remembered for that, too. His reputation took a huge hit in the wake of sexual assault allegation levelled at him in 2003, and it’s hard to imagine he isn’t still somewhat feeling the repercussions of that. He lost endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella, and the Lakers saw a significant drop in sales in Bryant jerseys. It was a defining moment in Kobe’s career, and will remain part of the conversation when discussing the legacy of Kobe Bryant.
Of course, you can also just remember Kobe for spending 20 seasons playing nowhere but the Lakers. You can remember the dynamic duo he created with Shaq and you can remember the rifts that came between them.
All of these things define Kobe’s career. But they define all basketball players. Every player has stats. Every player has left his mark on a franchise in one way or another. Hell, most of the biggest guys have their fair share of controversy as well. As more and more talent comes onto the scene using Kobe as a personal measuring stick, he may even lose some of his records.
But Kobe is still special. Kobe still leaves a legacy that is elevated above the rest.
Kobe’s true legacy is left not by the basketball player, not the celebrity, but the man. The man who insisted no on-court ceremonies be performed in his honor during his retirement. The man who retired through a poem expressing his passion for the game. The man who rarely fell to injury in his determination to consistently get the job done. The man who drew cheers and chants throughout his last season, even in such historically hostile territories such as TD Garden and Sleep Train Arena…just because he’s Kobe.
— STAPLES Center (@STAPLESCenter) April 6, 2016
Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player on paper. But he should be remembered less for the game he played and more for the way he played it. He had unparalleled work ethic and expressed his passion for the game in a way few players before him have.
“There’s so much beauty in the pain of this thing,” Kobe said of his decision to retire.
That’s something basketball fans everywhere can agree with.