Kobe Bryant was one of the most legendary athletes and inspiring icons of all-time. He played his entire NBA career with one team, the Los Angeles Lakers, helping to lead the franchise to five NBA championships: 1999-00, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2008-09, and 2009-10. There have been few athletes, entertainers, or artists who have mastered their respective craft — skill and dexterity wise — the way Bryant mastered playing the game of basketball. This was an obvious byproduct of his patented “Mamba Mentality,” the signature term he famously used to describe his unrelenting drive to be the very best version of himself. Bryant would fittingly compose an inspirational storybook post NBA retirement called “Kobe Bryant: The Mamba Mentality.” In this gem, Bryant utilized a collection of compelling images photographed by Andrew D. Bernstein to chronicle the journey of his career and share the lessons from it with the world. Bryant’s 20-year playing career included a plethora of unforgettable moments and performances. One of those that very much stands out was his final NBA game.
Early on in the 2015-16 season, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the season’s end. The 2015-16 Lakers season would essentially serve as a farewell tour for Bryant, who received overwhelming tributes at each road arena. This was emblematic of how cosmically influential Bryant was to the league, the sport, and the world culturally. The April 13, 2016 Lakers home game against the Utah Jazz was Bryant’s final NBA game, and was surely one of the most anticipated regular-season games in NBA history. For this special night, a No. 8 (which Bryant wore for the first half of his career) and a No. 24 (which Bryant wore for the second half of his career) were inscribed onto the Staples Center Lakers court.
By April 13, 2016, the 37-year-old Bryant was physically and mentally drained, but, for his extraordinarily hyped-up final game, he rose perhaps even above the occasion — giving the star-studded crowd and fans watching across the globe everything he had left to give. While leading the Lakers to a 101-96 come-from-behind victory, Bryant finished the game with an astonishing 60 points. Bryant’s 15-straight points for the Lakers late in the fourth quarter, highlighted by his iconic go-ahead pull-up jump shot with 31.6 seconds left in regulation, was one of the most clutch, crowd-pleasing displays in NBA history. After Laker “purple and gold” balloons and “Mamba” 24 confetti streamed from the rafters in celebratory fashion, the man of the evening addressed the audience and gave his famous “Mamba Out” speech. The evening was surely a Hollywood-type way for one of the game’s all-time greats to go out.
A few months later, the city of Los Angeles declared August 24 “Kobe Bryant Day,” most appropriate because 8 (as in the month of August) and 24 were his two Lakers jersey numbers. On December 18, 2017, the Lakers retired those two legendary jersey numbers, which gave Bryant the distinction of being the first NBA player ever to have two separate jersey numbers retired by the same organization. It was recently announced that a street bordering Staples Center will be named Kobe Bryant Blvd. and surely there will be a statue permanently placed in front of Staples Center as well. In just about a month from now, Bryant, who tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in January of 2020 along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, will be posthumously enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Bryant was an 18 time NBA All-Star, 11 time All-NBA First Team selection, and nine time selection on the All-NBA First Defensive Team. He ranks No. 4 on the NBA all-time regular season scoring list and No. 4 on the NBA all-time playoff scoring list. He also won two Olympic gold medals representing Team USA in 2008 and 2012.
Kobe Bryant simply gave everything that he had to the game of basketball and played with insurmountable passion. He played through numerous throbbing injuries throughout his career, yet, despite that pain, he oftentimes still played at or near his best. He was one of the most physically and mentally tough athletes imaginable. He was one of the most self-driven, detail-oriented, and committed professionals (at any craft) that this world will ever see. As an exemplary role model in so many ways both on and off the court, Kobe Bryant has inspired and touched billions across the globe. His legend will live on forever and continue to inspire so many future generations to come.