Joshua Hicks is a contributor to WARR and The D & Davis Show
Yesterday evening, the Los Angeles Lakers raised one more of its line of icons into the rafters of Staples Center.
Ever the one-upsman, Kobe Bean Bryant got to do something that neither Magic or Kareem or his friend/foe Shaq or anyone else in the Lakers’ circle of legends can lay claim to, retiring two numbers, Nos. 8 and 24, representing two eras of one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA and maybe its last true predator.
Coming into the league as a recent high school graduate, drafted with the 13th pick in 1996, the phenom of the Philadelphia suburbs was on the verge of living his dream as a NBA player in Charlotte as a Hornet, but thanks to Jerry West’s foresight he was traded soon after to the legendary Lakers franchise, putting Bryant on a Purple and Gold bricked road towards immortality.
For his first ten seasons in the league as No. 8, Bryant unfolded a chapter of success and challenges that both made him an ubiquitous figure of success on the court, rivaling that of his biggest inspiration, Michael Jordan while at the same time facing scandal that at the least tarnished and could have completely dismantled his legacy as a public figure.
Among the most athletic scoring guards we have ever seen, Bryant was a highlight machine, creating numerous dunking posters that kids who came up during his two-decade career, myself included, hung on their bedroom walls. Relentless and more often than not willing to impose his will on his opponents, Kobe made history in multiple contexts — while playing sidekick to arguably the best big man in NBA history, Shaquille O’Neal, but also while gladly taking the mantle of Mr. Laker for a whole new generation of basketball fans reared at the beginning of this new millenium.
The achievements stand atop all but a select few in the history of basketball: five World Championships, 18-time an All-Star, 15-time a member of the All-NBA Team and 12-time member of the All-Defensive team. Bryant led the NBA in scoring during two seasons, and ranks third on the league’s all-time regular season scoring and fourth on the all-time postseason scoring list, he holds the NBA record for the most seasons playing with one franchise for an entire career and holds the second best scoring performance in NBA history, the 81-point game.
Prior to even changing his number Kobe he scored an overall 16,866 points while earning three of those championships. Ten years into his career he was already deserving of the Hall of Fame, but he did not stop there.
But even with all that success, Bryant was reminded often that he was still human, no more so than when he was charged with sexual assault in an incident with a 19-year old college student in Colorado in 2003. Bryant wound up being cleared of those charges, but the incident to some people have stained his reputation, and that was all Bryant needed to humble himself and reconnect his focus back to the court, thus starting a new chapter, that of Kobe as No. 24 in the rise of the Black Mamba.
Bouncing back from the off-court controversy and fully emboldened as a leader without the presence of Shaq in LA, it was time for Bryant to be the face of the franchise and take the lead in re-establishing the Lakers as the class of the West and the NBA in general.
Embracing the infamous Mamba mentality, Bryant went forward as an assassin — relentless on the court, steel-faced in front of every competitor and challenger that was put in front of him. Indeed by the time in Bryant’s career where he reigned as a back-to-back champion in 2009 and ’10, only Jordan was left as comparative in regards to who gave the most of themselves every time they hit the floor.
From being a six-year-old black boy raised in Italy to becoming a now 39-year-old, internationally known elder statesman and sports legend, the Black Mamba survived to become a humbled father and family man and in fellow Laker legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s words “the greatest to ever wear purple and gold.”
As the twin jerseys rose above the Laker faithful and the basketball nation kept itself up late into the night to take in this historical moment for themselves the Mamba graciously offered words of wisdom directed to his children and for the public’s benefit, imbued with the sort of lesson we’ve come to expect from him.
“Those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself but you do it anyways: That is actually the dream….Thank you, Mamba, out.”
Joshua Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio