The basketball world said goodbye to one of its greatest players this weekend. Kobe Bryant, who played twenty seasons in the NBA–all for the Los Angeles Lakers–passed away tragically in an accident at the young age of 41.
By the time he retired, Kobe Bryant had already done enough to solidify his place as one of the greatest players in NBA history. His list of accolades is staggering. He was an MVP once (2008-09), first-team All-NBA eleven times, and an All-Star in every season but two. He won five championships and is the fourth leading scorer in the league’s history. Without a doubt, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (which is, coincidentally, this year).
His impressive career intersected with the Detroit Pistons, too, in one of the few times he and his team came up short. In 2004, the Lakers were two years removed from winning three consecutive NBA Finals, from 2000 to 2002, the last time this feat ever occurred.
Kobe was surrounded by a core the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox, among others. The 2001 team, arguably the best playoff team ever assembled, lost only one game en route to winning the title. So, when the Pistons encountered the Lakers in 2004, they came in as +400 underdogs.
Every Piston fan knows the outcome of this series: Detroit claimed the victory in five hard-fought games. It was an important moment in Detroit sports history, and Kobe Bryant was a fixture in the series. In this case, the Pistons were able to contain Kobe to one of the least effective Finals of his career. In game two, however, which turned out to be the Lakers’ lone win of the series, Kobe led all scorers and added seven assists, easily the most dominant player on the court that evening.
The same could be said about all the great players: no lead felt safe with them on the opposing side. While he did not do the typical damage in the 2004 FInals, the potential was always there. Watching those games, with him and Shaq on the other end of the court, the series never seemed truly safe.
Kobe could command the respect of his opponents and strike fear into their fans, undoubtedly one of the highest compliments for the game’s most dominant competitors.
In the past few days, hundreds of people have said or written thousands of words in an attempt to remember Kobe Bryant. He was one of a few athletes who transcended their sport; even people who did not follow basketball knew his name. While his time on Earth was cut so short, his legacy will live on for a long, long time.