LOS ANGELE: With breathtaking skill and a ruthless will to win Kobe Bryant stamped his authority on the NBA, leaving a mark that will linger long after the Los Angeles Lakers guard plays the last game of his 20-year career tomorrow.
Bryant, 37, will walk away with five NBA titles, having secured his place not only among such Lakers icons as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jerry West but also in the pantheon of NBA greats still presided over by Michael Jordan.
“I studied him, wanted to be like him,” Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, said when Bryant announced in November that this season would be his last.
“He was our Michael Jordan,” said Durant, “a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Someone I’m always going to look to for advice for anything. Just a brilliant, intelligent man.”
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Such accolades have poured in since November, even fans in long hostile arenas showering Bryant with affection as a dismal Lakers season evolved into a Kobe farewell tour that concludes at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz.
Courtside seats for what promises to be a glittering event were going on ticket resale site StubHub for just under $20,000, with the cheapest seats going for more than $600.
Those who don’t get in can still attend a Lakers-sponsored fan-fest outside the arena.
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“He deserves it after 20 years,” said Eric Pincus, who covers Bryant and the Lakers for the Los Angeles Times and Basketballinsiders.com. “Very few players play 20 years of basketball, a typical career might be five years, seven years.”
The celebrations are an ironic final twist in the career of a player whose uncompromising nature has made him a polarising figure.
Bryant, affectionately known as The Black Mamba, has produced some of the NBA’s most dazzling scoring performances — topped by his 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 — and stands third on the league’s all-time scoring list behind only Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone and ahead of Jordan.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2016.
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