20 years ago no one knew that Kobe would be the Mamba, that he would score 81 points, have 5 rings and feud with Shaq. 20 years ago there was a young man that was a project coming out of high school and even he could not have for seen the greatness that he would accomplish.
First I am a huge Kobe fan, just to make that clear now with that said. Kobe Bryant was drafted with the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets on June 26, 1996 and then was traded to the Lakers for Vlade Divac this was the beginning of the LA love affair with the Philadelphia shooting guard. Kobe had a rookie year he was mostly a back up as expected for an 18-year-old rookie, playing behind Eddie Jones. Kobe continued to make progress in the years to follow and in this time you could see him becoming a superstar. Especially after the disappointing 4th quarter in the western conference semi-finals against the Utah Jazz, when Kobe had 3 air balls helping another team close out a game by taking bad shots.
In 2000 he took that lesson and after Shaq fouled out of the game, Kobe helped the team get over the hump to win in an overtime against the Indiana Pacers. Scoring 3 key baskets to lead the Lakers in an overtime victory of 2pts 120-118. At the Staples center two games later Kobe and Shaq won their first title. This was the beginning of the Kobe era for the NBA and the first glimpse of the all-time great that he would become. This was the beginning of the Lakers 3peat with Kobe and Shaq, that ended in the break-up of the team when Kobe resigned a long term contract, that also saw the departure of Phil Jackson. The final touch of the villain of Kobe Bryant and the beginning of the rebirth of Kobe as the Black Mamba.
Kobe began to lose favor with some people with his departure from Adidas and signing with Nike, even if it was mostly an expected move by both Nike and Kobe. There was a perception that he had slighted Adidas. Then came the bomb the Colorado incident, now whatever truly happened in the hotel room doesn't matter. At the time Kobe was married so rape or consensual sex was still an affair and made him a villain in public opinion. Then was the cherry on top the Lakers dismantling, even if Kobe did not demand the firing of coach Phil Jackson; he was held responsible. Then when Phil Jackson's book said that Kobe was "uncoachable" it did not help. Then the trade of Shaq to Miami was the moment when the team was Kobe's and no longer a Lakers dynasty and became Kobe's legacy.
The next moment where Kobe made everyone look is when he outscored the Dallas Mavericks 62 to 61 at the end of the third quarter. This was the first time anyone thought that the 100pts record by Wilt could be challenged. Kobe did not play the four quarter of this blow out game in December of 2005. Then a little more than a month later Kobe put up 81pts against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 and no one saw this coming. It was a night to celebrate just how great of an athlete Kobe is. At this point the self-proclaimed nick name Black Mamba nickname could be accepted by everyone.
After the end of the 2007-08 season for Kobe the league MVP he set his sights on the Olympics. Summer of 2008 to Summer of 2009 might as well be called the year of the Mamba, the summer Olympics 2008 The Black Mamba had his eyes on a gold medal. This was a one of those well if they don't win was the only conversation to be had. Then he went on to have an MVP type season again and even without the award he heard MVP more often than not. He leads Lakers into the 2009 playoffs, that was wrapped up with a NBA title and Finals MVP this was the first of 2 titles, but this time frame felt special. This was the moment when everything was justified the long-term deal, his Nike contract, the firing and re-hiring of Phil Jackson and the Shaq departure. All now was behind him he was now cemented as one of the all-time greats.
In 2010 Kobe got revenge against the Boston Celtics and the NBA could not have been happier. It was a 7 game series, a NBA rivalry that even the most casual fan knows the importance of and it was full of stars. Garnett, Allen, Peirce lead by Doc Rivers all future Hall of Famers then on the other side Pau, Kobe, Fisher lead by the Zen Master Phil. By the way it was a rematch of the 2008 finals what more could you want. The biggest difference between the 08' Lakers and the 10' Lakers was that the ghosts that had haunted Kobe were gone. It still was a series war and I can remember the excitement of game 7 watching with a mixture of Laker and Celtic fans. It was a shame there was never a 3rd and final series against the 2 teams still it was a final great moment for the Kobe run of greatness.
Now we get to say goodbye to Kobe, he gave us a glimpse of his defiant nature after tearing his Achilles he took 2 free throws and wanted to know if he could plat through it. Kobe maybe the last of the bad guys, I say that in the vane that he was loved and hated by so many. For so many different reasons and he took that hatred to mold himself into a great champion. He entered the game not wanting to be friends with any of his opponents and now signs shoes for players that looked up to him or he came up with. Kobe's farewell tour after 20 years of fighting on the basketball court, he will leave a true warrior of the game. He will always be the beloved villain and the end of an era that began back in the earlier days of the NBA where enemies were not loved till the sweat was gone and the blood had scared. Then they would trade stories of the days they battled in the warm cold of retirement. Kobe will now enter that cold road of retirement and every once in a while he will hear the call of the black top, the echo of the arena and warmth of being an all-time great.