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A montage of the various uniforms that Kobe Bryant wore during his twenty years as a Los Angeles Laker. Image courtesy of informaticaeso4b16.blogspot.com

 

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE…

THIS IS THE 100th ARTICLE THAT SOCALSPORTSANNALS.COM HAS PUBLISHED SINCE THIS SITE WAS LAUNCHED IN JANUARY OF 2015!

SO IT’S ONLY APPROPRIATE THAT ARTICLE NUMBER 100 IS OUR APPRECIATION OF THE NEWLY RETIRED LAKER AND NEWEST LEGEND OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SPORTS:

 

A QUICK EDITOR’S NOTE:  

This post will be in lieu of what would be the Lakers’ season wrap-up, because we all know how bad they were (17-65, the worst in team history and second worst record in the NBA) and what their needs are for next season.

 

I have to be honest…

Though I have always respected his talent and what he did for one of the National Basketball Association’s two elite franchises (along with the Boston Celtics),

I wasn’t always the biggest fan of Kobe Bean Bryant, for reasons similar to others who weren’t the biggest fans of the “Black Mamba” – perceptions of him not being the nicest guy, at least on the court, as well as his alleged selfishness and personal unlikability.

For those who are vehemently denying this right now, try having a chat with Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard sometime regarding their relationship with Kobe.

This perception reached the point where I can remember youngsters at an elementary school where I taught P.E. calling him a “Ball Hog”.

And that was during his first glory years when he, Shaq, and their Los Angeles Lakers won those three straight NBA Finals from 2000-2002.

Oh yes, I vividly recall seeing Laker flags flying from seemingly every car window at that time, largely due to the guy wearing #8.

What I didn’t completely understand then – and which I understand now – is this:

Kobe’s determination and laser-like focus to not only win championships, but also to have his name mentioned along with Michael Jordan’s as the best basketball player of all time, was perhaps the most pronounced of any athlete ever.

So much so that even his peers ultimately couldn’t handle it.

Shaq couldn’t handle it after eight years.

Dwight Howard definitely couldn’t handle it as he barely lasted a season in Staples Center,

And apparently neither could all of the other big names who refused to sign with the Lakers the past few years because they refused to take a back seat to Kobe.

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A nice shot of Kobe pushing the ball up the court. Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

 

But there’s one thing that I believe VERY strongly:

It was exactly that intensity that got the Lakers those five championships, as well as his being…

The highest scoring Laker of all time,

The third-highest scorer in NBA history, with only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone having scored more points,

The second most single game scorer in history, his 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 bested only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in March of 1962

An 18-time All-Star,

The only player in NBA history with 30,000 points, 6,000 assists, and 6,000 rebounds,

and one particular statistic that earns much respect from me…

The most seasons playing for one team – 20.

Although I respectfully disagree with those who proclaim Kobe as the greatest Laker ever, as I have him as the third greatest behind Kareem and Magic Johnson,

It would be VERY wrong of me to not state how much I appreciated Kobe, not only for what he did for the Lakers,

But also what he did for basketball fans – and sports fans in general – in Southern California as his exploits on the Staples Center court helped bring L.A. together.

No matter what your background was or where you lived (with the exception of Clipper fans, who were relatively few in numbers back in the day although they are continuing to rapidly grow with that team’s recent success), seeing Kobe Bryant doing his thing and leading the Lakers to glory in the post-Showtime era brought joy to the Southland.

 

KOBE BRYANT: The Top 10 Plays of His Career, Courtesy of YouTube.com

 

When it comes down to it…

There were some fans who didn’t always like him.

But they willingly, and without any reservation, respect him.

As do I.

Which is why I join all of SoCal in saying…

THANK YOU, KOBE.

I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO YOUR HALL OF FAME INDUCTION SPEECH IN FIVE YEARS.

And oh, by the way…

Both your numbers – 8 AND 24 – need to be retired by the Lakers during their first home game next season, or nothing makes sense in the world.

 

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Kobe attempting one of his 26,200 free throws, third on the all-time list. Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

 

 

 

 

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