After Mike, it was Kobe
One of the greatest in NBA history says this will be his final season
Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, had something he wanted to tell legendary former Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan.
He contacted Jordan and said: "This is it."
It is poignant, because Bryant was the bridge from the Jordan era until the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry took control.
Maybe Shaquille O'Neal was more dominant and Tim Duncan provided a more consistent foundation for championships, but Bryant's greatness and popularity made him the most important - both for the fans and the wave of players that followed him into the league.
Bryant became one of the greatest legends in the history of the NBA over two decades with the Lakers, fighting through pain and controversy to ensure his place as an icon.
He ranks third on the NBA all-time scoring list, trailing only leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, and won NBA crowns with the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
When the 37-year-old guard, a member of US Olympic gold medal teams in 2008 and 2012, announced on Sunday he would retire at the end of the season, it was the end to a saga that had become painful to watch.
Slowed by age and numerous injuries, Bryant was struggling with a weak supporting cast on a Laker team he twice led to the glory of multiple NBA crowns, only to see them fade.
Through 2003 rape accusations and insulting remarks that led to fines and apologies, Bryant has shrugged off controversy to become one of the most popular NBA stars.
Announcing his retirement, he said he still loved competition, but admitted that his body could no longer handle the rigours of professional basketball.
"I had to come to terms with it," he said after the Lakers 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles. "I had to accept the fact I didn't want to do this anymore."
"I have known for awhile. I am very solid with this decision," Kobe added. "If I had a burning desire to play I would.
"I don't want to get too Zen like. But my mind always started drifting towards basketball and it doesn't do that all the time anymore.
"To me that is the first indicator that this game isn't something I can obsess over much longer."
Bryant was the one to bring the lessons he learned from Jordan to the new generation and to inspire them the way he once drew inspiration from Jordan.
In 2006, he scored 81 points in a game against Toronto, the second-highest one-game total in NBA history, second only to the record 100 scored by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962. Bryant won the NBA scoring crown with a 35.4-point-per-game average.
In 2007, Bryant scored 65 points against Portland, 50 against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 against New Orleans in consecutive games, a 50-plus game run bettered only by Chamberlain in NBA history.
Barring another injury, Bryant's final game would be at home against Utah on April 13.
One of the things he hopes to do after this season is to make films and documentaries like the one he recently made called Kobe Bryant's Muse.
But the NBA world was united in agreement with one of the greatest in history, Magic Johnson, who said quite simply: "There will never be another Kobe."
- Wire Services.
KOBE BY THE NUMBERS
Career points, third on NBA’s scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone and ahead of Michael Jordan (above), who Bryant passed last season
Career play-off points, third on scoring list, behind Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar (above) and ahead of Shaquille O’Neal.
NBA Championships, including the Lakers’ three-peat with O’Neal (2000-2002) and back-to-back titles with Pau Gasol (2009-2010); all five titles came under coach Phil Jackson.
Bryant (above) is a two-time US Olympic gold medallist (2008 and 2012 Games).