The Lakers without Kobe Bryant

by Daniel Lee | 4/3/16 6:09pm

Growing up in Los Angeles, I always believed that Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers were two inseparable terms in the world of basketball. It seemed almost as though Bryant would never leave the Lakers and that someday in the distant future the next generation of avid basketball fans would be able to walk through the glass doors of Staples Center with their friends and family to witness Bryant’s unstoppable fadeaway shot.

Bryant is a man touted for his work ethic, competitiveness in the game and passion to become the best that has ever stepped on the court — characteristics that have rewarded him with an unforgettable 81 point game, third place on the all-time scoring list and 18 NBA All-Star games. Financially, he has earned over $300 million dollars from his contracts with the Lakers, holds the 10th place spot on Forbes’s list of highest paid athletes and has helped the Lakers franchise become close to a $3 billion dollar team.

After countless years of watching Bryant dominate game after game, season after season, we were all victims of his greatness, attributing unattainable immortality to a mortal man. However, just like a hero in the Trojan War, Bryant met his match when he tore his Achilles tendon in the middle of the 2012-2013 season, a devastating injury that brought sense back into the world and signaled that even the most successful careers are nothing but ephemeral.

The severity of the injury was realized during a heartbreaking locker room interview that same night, where reporters and fans were able to see the vulnerability in Bryant through his teary eyes and raspy voice, something that hadn’t been seen since the press conference in the summer of 2003 when he admitted to adultery.

Despite his efforts to prove every sports critic, player and coach that doubted his ability to return as the same player that we all admired, Bryant failed to compete in the manner fans all hoped he would. A fractured knee in the 2013-2014 season gave even the most faithful Laker fans the slightest doubt of a memorable return to the game. It is clear that Father Time has taken a toll on his body, and the imminent retirement announcement came on Nov. 29, shocking the sports world and sending everyone scrambling to say their goodbyes. After every workout, practice, agonizing injury and aching walk back to the locker room that he has endured playing professional basketball for 20 years, it’s hard to blame him for a loss of passion in the game.

Despite the fact that fans are flocking to witness Kobe for a final time, his retirement is still undoubtedly shrouded by a potentially record breaking season by the Golden State Warriors, poor team chemistry thanks to Nick Young’s infidelity and D’Angelo Russell’s inability to maintain discretion over private matters and consecutive disappointing seasons. However, Bryant’s faithful career to the Lakers will certainly gain traction in the following days. People will give his career the same respect and admiration that the world paid towards other superstar athletes that spent their entire career with one team, such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

To quote Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” — we will undoubtedly look back at the last two decades to cherish these memories. But that celebration will end in concern regarding the gloomy future that lies ahead. The long road of rebuilding a team around Russell, second-year player Julius Randle and other draft picks will be a daunting task, and there is no guarantee that the Lakers will establish themselves as a championship team within the next decade. Nonetheless, when Lakers fans look up at the nine retired Lakers jerseys on the ceiling of Staples Center, we’ll eagerly wait for the next great player to bring the franchise back to its feet and lead us to the Promised Land filled with champagne, trophies and banners.