On any other day, these words don’t carry a lot of weight. They’ve been overused and devalued by a society that has embraced a prisoner-of-the-moment mentality. But today is different. Today, April 14, 2016, those words carry a lot of weight. They carry the weight of a 20-year NBA career that has officially had its final curtain call.
Kobe Bryant, the man who inspired passionate love and hate from his legions of fans and haters alike, has retired. The NBA won’t be the same without you, Mamba. It felt weird watching you do everything for the last time. Last player introduction. Last jump shot. Last defensive stance. Last free throw. Last bite of the jersey.
“He made me appreciate the game of basketball more. He’s my personal hero. It’s going to be tough to follow another basketball player after him.” - Nick Galvan
Do you realize why your retirement is such a big deal? Do you know whose fault it is? We do. It’s yours.
It’s your fault why we’ve circled this day since you announced your plan to hang it up back in November. You’ve spoiled us with your greatness on the basketball court for two decades. From that Slam Dunk contest win in 1997 to you becoming the third greatest scorer in NBA history in 2016. From the countless dunks to all the game-winners. From the five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, two Olympic gold medals, one MVP, and each and everyone of the 33,000-plus points you scored in your career.
You did all of that, Kobe. You made us invest emotionally in a basketball player in ways we’ve never done since the days of Michael Jordan. So excuse us for having pits in our stomachs now that we’re beginning to realize that the days of the Mamba are over.
“20 years ago, I thought he was just an overrated draft pick, a Jordan copycat. He proved us all wrong.” - Jay Sumulong
Even your haters, a lot of whom took great pride in all your shortcomings, have come to appreciate the magnitude of this day. And it's not because they were excited to see you go, but because they understood, as fans of the league, that your fingerprints have touched every circle of the sport. It seems silly to think that you could literally inspire millions of basketball players in the world today and have as many people trying to knock you and your accomplishments down. It’s always been love and hate with you, Kobe. There was no never a middle ground. You knew that and you were willing to pay the price for it. Love or hate, you used all of it to motivate yourself to become the greatest basketball player you could be.
“Kobe taught me about ‘mamba mentality’. If you choose something to do, do it with all you’ve got. No shortcuts.” - Jeron Manzanero
We don’t need to tell you this but the relentlessness competitive drive you displayed in becoming one of the game’s greatest players will be your legacy. You’re right, those banners will hang forever, but most people won’t remember them as much as they will look back on the times you pushed yourself to your absolute limit. That’s always been your calling card, Kobe. Now and forever. Stories of your maniacal competitiveness are legendary. That’s your greatest contribution to the game and the way you’ve inspired millions with your drive and work ethic has transcended your accomplishments on the court. That’s cachet no amount of fame or money can buy.
“I never witnessed the Jordan era, but I'm fortunate that I witnessed and enjoyed the Kobe era. Wouldn't have it any other way. Kobe Bryant is my gold standard for basketball.” - Johanna Estrada
It’s only fitting that we end it this way, Kobe. There will never be another Michael Jordan, that much we think you agree with. You don’t need to be compared to Jordan to have your greatness validated. You did that on your own, through sheer will and determination, mixed with that otherworldly basketball talent. You became great on your own terms. So as we hold MJ in the highest of reverence, we think it’s safe to say that there will also never be another Kobe Bryant.
Thank you, Kobe, for all the memories. Thank you for being a hero to millions of your fans. Thank you for being a legend to your peers. Thank you for being the icon that you are.
So here we are, a legendary career has come to a close. One last time, you proved your greatness with the 60 points you dropped on Utah. Your final game. 60 points. Incredible. One last time, the forever gunslinger, riding off into the sunset after spending his last bullets in the most dramatic way imaginable. One last time, Kobe. Thank you.
Mamba fan out.
Image via NBCsports.com