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Kobe Bryant: Greatness Personified

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After months of speculation and rumors, the great Kobe Bryant officially announced he’ll retire after the season in a post at The Players’ Tribune on Sunday.

In a piece entitled “Dear Basketball,” the 37-year-old Bryant wrote, “You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream and I’ll always love you for it.”

Bryant also wrote this:

And we both know, no matter what I do next

I’ll always be that kid with the rolled up socks

Garbage can in the corner

:05 seconds on the clock

Ball in my hands.

5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always,

Kobe.

For my last dollar, Bryant is the best player to lace them up over the last two decades. He came into the NBA straight from high school in 1996, and in his 20 years of NBA service, Kobe has won five rings with the Lakers, two gold medals, registered over 32,000 points (which puts him third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list) and been named to 17 All-Star Teams.

Bryant made a name for himself immediately upon his arrival to the NBA by spectacularly winning the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend in his rookie season. He won the competition by completing an off-the-dribble version of J.R. Rider’s Eastbay Funk Dunk:

The following season, Kobe made his first appearance in the All-Star Game to become the youngest All-Star in NBA history at 19 years of age.

Bryant soon became an NBA champion by teaming up with future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to lead the Lakers to three consecutive titles while morphing into a perennial All-NBA player despite being tabbed as a second option. Once the Lakers broke up his partnership with O’Neal, Bryant rebounded to lead the Lakers to three consecutive trips to the Finals and back-to-back world championships in 2009 and 2010.

Unfortunately for Bryant, his final season in the Association has been one to forget.

The Lakers are 2-13 and on pace to land in the lottery for the third year in a row for the first time in franchise history (they have to get in the top three in the lottery to keep their pick). To make matters worse, Bryant is shooting a career-worst 31.5 percent while averaging only 15.7 points, and back issues have kept him from playing as much as he’d like.

“It’s always hard when greatness like Kobe decides to hang it up,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said to Time Warner Cable SportsNet before Sunday night’s game against Indiana. “I think for him, going through the stretch we are going through, and also just the fact we got 60 whatever it is games left, it gives him a chance to go around all these NBA cities and they can all really show their appreciation.”

Despite limping to the end of his career, Bryant is admired and highly respected by other stars in the league who still look up to him.

”It’s tough to see one of the absolute greatest competitors go through this,” Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press on Sunday, prior to Bryant making his announcement. ”You can put a team around a guy to help a guy, especially late in his career. They’re just not in position right now to do that. He’s won five championships, so no one feels bad for him from that standpoint. But from a standpoint of seeing one of this era’s greatest players go out in a rebuilding process, it’s tough.”

I agree with Wade’s sentiments wholeheartedly, and I’ll remember Bryant not for how his career ended, but for what he did throughout it. Watching him become a five-time champion, a warrior who never backed down from a challenge and the best 2-guard I’ve ever seen play is exactly how I’ll always remember Kobe Bean Bryant.

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