The Fall of the Mamba: Kobe Bryant Career Retrospective

Adrian Holguin , Sports Editor

Kobe Bryant Career Retrospective

Kobe Bryant captivated the lives of millions of people throughout his career. It was incredibly awe-inspiring to see someone have such a determined attitude throughout the entirety of his 20-year NBA career. He had the opportunity to play with all-time greats such as Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. He was able to capitalize on these opportunities by winning five NBA championships, including a legendary three-peat for the Lakers from the year 2000 to the year 2002 when Kobe and Shaq were among the top players in the league after the decline of Michael Jordan following the Bulls 1998 Championship season. Throughout the remainder of this article, I will be attempting to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Kobe Bryan by taking you through his entire professional career.

Early life through NBA Draft:

A young Kobe Bryant was originally raised in the country of Italy after his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, retired from the NBA after the 1983 season, when a young Kobe was only 6 years old. After his “Jellybean’s” retirement from the Philadelphia 76ers, he ended up moving his family from Philadelphia, Pa., to Spain in order to continue to compete in the game that he loved on a lesser level. Kobe would use this opportunity to refine his skills at a young age, as well as learning and mastering his father’s work ethic, which he would eventually use to help him achieve greatness in his own career.

The five members of the Bryant family would make their return to the “City of Brotherly Love” eight years later, when a young Kobe Bryant would soon begin to forge his own legacy. Bryant began attending the now legendary local high school of Lower Merion High in 1992, where it didn’t take long for him to become widely recognized as the best player in the county. Over the course of his high school career, Bryant was able accumulate an incredible amount of impressive stats, including 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds, to go along with 6,306 total rebounds.

Following his 1996 season, Bryant would turn his attention to his inevitable NBA career, thus announcing his decision to skip college and “take his talents to the NBA.” Kobe Bryant’s draft day experience was, let’s just say, not exactly what you would expect for that of a player of his caliber. He would be drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, but would then not long after be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in what was supposed to be a money saving move for the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers landed the best player in the history of the franchise from a “money saving move.”

Shaq years:

When Kobe first arrived to the Lakers, he win on his own, due to the Jerry West led front office going out and acquiring one of the best big men in league history, Shaquille O’Neal, after he spent years developing with the Orlando Magic. Despite what you might expect, championship success did not come particularly early for this group, with it taking around two years for the group to fully hit their stride.

You cannot even begin to talk about the effect that this pairing had on the NBA without first mentioning the 1998 addition of soon-to-be 11 time World Championship head coach Phil Jackson. Coach Jackson revolutionized the NBA in the 90s with the addition of the Triangle Offense during his nine years with the Chicago Bulls. Phil Jackson was, in my opinion, one of the keys to bringing and coaching up a young Scottie Pippen to be the main complement to Jordan on those 90’s super teams, thus setting the stage for the Bulls dynasty. But this time around it would not be Jordan that would be the centerpiece of this revolutionary offensive scheme, it would be Shaq’s turn to dominate the league for years to come.

Bryant would finally become the team’s full time starting shooting guard in the middle of the 1998-99 NBA season. He originally lost the job temporarily when he lost the trust of his teammates after he infamously airballed a handful of threes and ended the Lakers’ season in the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals.  But after Phil Jackson made this pivotal decision, the team would seemingly never look back. This 1998 team would go on to fall just short in the Western Conference Finals where they would end up getting swept at the hands of the Utah Jazz.

This group would go on to reach seemingly unreachable heights throughout the next three seasons; they ended up winning the NBA championship in all three of those seasons and thus utterly dominated the league over this time. Kobe would begin to cement himself as a top-five level player on top of what the team already had in Shaquille O’Neal. But despite the dominant feats these squads were able to achieve, the underlining storyline for all of these teams was the under the table beef and confrontations that would occur between the two Hollywood Mega-Stars on what was seemingly a regular basis. Despite the team continuously going on long and dominant playoff runs, the wedge between the two would just continue to grow. A specific example of this is when Shaq took severely uncalled for shots at a young Kobe as he went through his infamous 2003 court case. The hardwired Kobe Bryant was hell-bent on proving to not only himself, but to the whole world that he did not need one of the greatest big men ever to lead the Lakers to prolonged success and these words uttered by the big man would only emphasize these desires. After a long and tumultuous 2003 campaign, the Lakers shipped Shaq off to Florida and finally gave Kobe what he wanted all along: his own team.

The Mamba Years:

Kobe Bryant would then go on to have a difficult time winning with the Lakers over the course of the next four seasons, as he would face the same problem other all-time greats have faced throughout portions of their careers: not enough surrounding talent. Despite his teams not experiencing much championship success, Kobe would consistently put up huge numbers and help his mediocre teams make runs at potential championships, but no matter how many dominant performances he was able to muster up, he still could not single handedly lead his teams to the ultimate prize. The most significant feat Kobe was able to accomplish during this time would undoubtedly be his legendary 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors in the 2006 regular season.

This would soon all change, though, when the team went out and acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a 2008 blockbuster trade. After this move was made, the Lakers would quickly return to dominance. With just one other star on the court to take away attention, the Mamba led his team all the way to the NBA Finals, where they would fall short in a hard-fought six-game series at the hands of the Boston Celtics, who were led by the newly formed trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and sharpshooter Ray Allen.

In the 2009 NBA season, “The Black Mamba” was fueled by the memories of the crushing defeat his team suffered just a year prior. The events from the 2008 season drove Kobe to have one of the best seasons of his career. Kobe was able to once again lead his team to the NBA finals in which they would face a Orlando Magic team that was led by center Dwight Howard. The Lakers would go on to beat this Magic team in five games.

In the 2010 season, Kobe Bryant was finally able to conquer the challenge that he set for himself clear back in 2004 when the Lakers gave him the key to the franchise, after they sent a much younger Shaq to Dwayne Wade led Miami Heat team. He was finally able to bring a championship to the place that had embraced him throughout the entirety of his career. He finally brought a NBA championship to the Lakers.

In the 2010 season, Kobe had to once again lead his team to the NBA finals. In order to get to his main goal of winning a championship, Bryant had to conquer the same beast that had beaten him on the same stage just two years prior in the NBA Finals. The Lakers were able to conquer the Celtics in, once again, a hard fought six game series. This would give Kobe his fifth championship, which also means that he was just one championship away from matching Michael Jordan’s six championships. From the day a young Kobe Bryant first laid his eyes on the legend of Michael Jordan, he knew that was what he wanted to be. He would constantly push himself in an effort to catch the legendary feats that Jordan was able to achieve. From the sleepless nights, the 4 a.m. workouts, it is stories like this that helped inspire millions of people from around the world to attempt to put forth the same effort that he displayed.

The 2011 season would prove to be a pivotal one in the franchise’s history, for legendary coach Phil Jackson did not return as the head coach of the franchise. This loss would result in the Lakers not making it past the conference semifinals, where they fell short against the Dirk Nowitski led Dallas Mavericks.

The Decline of the Legend

Shortly after his 2011 championship, the body of Kobe Bryant began to slow down quite significantly. This was not too noticeable in the majority of the 2012 season that followed, but this was prior to a career altering Achilles injury that would sideline the Laker legend for the remainder of the season. This would also put the nail in the coffin for the meant-to-be super team made of Bryant, Dwight Howard, Gasol, and Steve Nash. It is important to note that Bryant would famously refuse to leave the court against the Warriors until he first sank his two free throws.

Kobe would never look or display the same dominant level of play that he played with prior to him rupturing his Achilles. People outside of California (that weren’t Laker Fans) would seemingly quickly forget the dominant force that Kobe was prior to his injury, possibly due to recency bias. Kobe would go on to play three more seasons in the NBA with the Lakers that were nowhere near as memorable as the 17 seasons he had previously played in.

The next, and also last memorable moment of the career, of Kobe Bryant occurred in what was the final game of his NBA career when he fittingly dropped 61 points on the Utah Jazz, finishing off a magical and memorable final season in the NBA.

Post Retirement:

Many people, including myself, believed that Kobe would have a very troublesome time adjusting to life without basketball. But this could not be farther from the truth, as Kobe would go on to have a magnificent post NBA career/life. We would go onto see a side of Kobe that we had not seen prior to his post playing days. He would be much more family oriented and you could hardly ever see him without one of his three daughters by his side. One of the things that Kobe would be very good at is the art of filmmaking. This is especially evident with the fact that Kobe would win an Oscar for his part in creating the short film, “Dear Basketball.” It was also at this time that Kobe began to cement himself as one of the most significant figures on earth and he was beginning to finally be universally recognized for all of the feats he had accomplished throughout his career. It was even beginning to appear that Bryant’s daughter Gianna was eventually going to be the one to carry on his great legacy.

The Death of the Mamba:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna along with seven other passengers were found dead on Sunday, January 26, in Calabasas, Calif., due to a tragic helicopter crash. This death of this legend would rock the entire world and resurrect an infinite amount of emotion from the millions of people that had grown up with this player and were inspired by his story of hard work and dedication. We were not able to see all the things Kobe would do throughout the remainder of his time on earth, but as a result of this tragic event, we also did not see how Gianna would be able to carry on her father’s legacy.

Kobe inspired people from all around the world with his dedication to his craft and the determination he had to conquer any obstacle that was put in front of him. Kobe would not want us to mourn over his death, instead he would want us to let it fuel us to come up with our own “Mamba Mentality.” These tragic events will serve as an immediate and constant reminder of how short life is, and how much your family truly means to you.