Kobe Bryant retires after two decades of stardom

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

We all knew this was coming. Kobe Bryant has been on the decline and battling serious injuries for a couple of years now, but he’s finally decided to call it quits. Bryant announced his retirement in an essay/free verse poem published on the Players Tribune entitled “Dear Basketball”.

The piece was deeply moving to me as a sports lover, and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels the deep passion for sports. It reads as a bit of a refresher about Kobe. His notorious aggression seemed to fade away for just a moment and you saw the man who has been doing this for two decades out of love for the sport.

 In the last two years of Kobe’s career, he has become much more introspective about his career and his place in basketball history. Maybe playing at a level far below his prime for $25 million a year will do that to a man. But the question is now up for debate. Where does he truly stand in the context of basketball history?

 Is he the Greatest of All Time? No. I don’t feel the need to hash this out. Michael Jordan. If you need me to list his accomplishments, then frankly I’m surprised you were drawn to a column about Kobe’s retirement.

 Is he the greatest Laker of all time? Now you might have a case there. Also in the running are Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Some may argue Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, or maybe even Shaquille O’Neill for the three-peat he helped spearhead with Kobe, but I think Magic and Kareem are the only others who really qualify. Magic was another career great, and though Kareem spent some time in Milwaukee, his greatest years undoubtedly came in Los Angeles. That being said, when I look back at those great Lakers teams in the 70’s and 80’s, the thought of Magic stepping in at center for Kareem in Game 7 of the Finals in his rookie year in a way grants the man who reinvented the point-forward a higher ranking in the history of purple and gold greats.

 So that leaves us with the comparison of Magic and Kobe. Obviously there is a difference as Kobe has been a premier scorer while Magic was an elite creator for teammates. They both have five rings as Lakers, and looking at the dumpster fire of a team the Lakers have this year, Kobe won’t be adding to the collection. Kobe has scored 25.3 points-per-game, while Magic averaged 19.5. But in rebounding and assists, Magic holds the edge, 7.2 to 5.3 in boards, and 11.2 to 4.8 in assists.

 Defensively, Kobe has been named to 12 all-defensive teams to Magic’s goose egg in that category, but Magic led the league in steals twice. Kobe made a name for himself with that patented aggression and athleticism on that end of the court, while Magic was just a mismatch who could defend all five positions and use his length to rack up those steals.

 Sadly, I’m not going to make a definitive decision on the greatest Laker of all time. Magic was tremendous in his time. Kobe was the man who ushered in the new millennia for the NBA. As Kobe’s career comes to a close, it would feel like an unnecessary splitting of hairs at a time when an all-time great should be celebrated.