By Sean Reis
Whenever I shoot a crumpled up paper ball into the garbage can in my room, I don’t say “Reggie” for Miller, “Scottie” for Pippen, or “Curry” for Steph — who may be the greatest shooter to ever play the game, but that’s neither here nor there. I say “Kobe” for Bryant.
And we all do because that was the mark that Bryant left on the recent era of basketball — a mark that will earn him enshrinement into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame four years from now.
Bryant may have played his final game last Wednesday, April 13, but for the previous two decades, he left behind a legacy, competing at an unmatched level during his time in the league. From the start of his career — fresh out of high school — to well past his prime, Bryant played the game with skills only the greatest players possessed.
In his rookie season, Bryant averaged 20 points per 36 minutes played during the playoffs, according to basketball-reference.com, for one of the highest averages ever among rookies. Meanwhile, 15 seasons later, Bryant averaged 30 points per game during the playoffs. Bryant was 33 years old, but age never slowed him down.
For Bryant’s final game before retirement, his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal reportedly encouraged him to score 40 points. He scored 60 points.
The game was another high-scoring total to add to his career, which included the second-highest scoring game in NBA history with 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. Remarkably, that same season, Bryant also scored 62 points through the first three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 20, 2005, however, the Lakers were already winning by 34 points going into the final quarter and Bryant did not see play.
The 2005-2006 season was one of his highest-scoring seasons, however Bryant and the Lakers did not win the NBA championship that year. Bryant’s last two championship wins would not come until later in his career, while his first three of five championship wins came after only four seasons, when Bryant averaged more than 20 points per game during all three playoff runs.
Bryant’s other career accomplishments included winning the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the 2007-2008 season, two NBA Finals MVPs, and four NBA All-Star Game MVPs during his 18 NBA All-Star Game appearances.
The only two seasons that Bryant was not selected to play for the Western Conference’s All-Star team were 1997 and 1999, however, Bryant attended the 1997 All-Star Weekend as the youngest player to ever win the slam dunk contest during his rookie season. Bryant was also the youngest player to reach numerous other feats.
Bryant did not accomplish any accolades as the oldest player until his final game, where Bryant — at 37 years and 234 days old — was the oldest player to score 60 or more points in one game. A sellout crowd was there to witness the moment, including other athletes, artists and thousands of fans that filled the Staples Center and its parking lot.
The 60-point game was another Hollywood ending for another legendary Los Angeles Laker, ending an era, but only continuing the legacy.