Twenty years ago, Kobe Bryant made his NBA debut as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school. He went scoreless in the game. Tonight, the five-time champion, third-all-time leading scorer, and 18-time All Star will play the last game of his career in what is sure to be an emotional send-off to the Los Angeles Lakers great.
Bryant, known by the moniker he gave himself, the Black Mamba, and the Lakers face off against the Utah Jazz at home to end the season. He announced his retirement in a poem last November, in part writing, “My heart can take the pounding / My mind can handle the grind / But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
Indeed, the past few seasons have been rocky for Bryant, and the Lakers for that matter. Los Angeles is missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, something that seemed unheard of during the Phil Jackson years of coaching, from 1999 to 2004 and from 2005 to 2011. In the team’s 68-year history, the Lakers have missed the playoffs only eight times. Rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2013 and breaking a bone in his left knee in 2014 made Bryant lose much of the edge that made him one of the best players in the league, making way for the dominance of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook.