Love or hate him, Kobe Bryant is king on and off the court. After 20 remarkable NBA seasons, the Black Mamba will play his 1,566th and final game tonight (April 13) against the Utah Jazz, leaving an unmatched legacy in his rearview. The outpouring of love is overwhelming leading up to his last shots, even from self-proclaimed Lakers denouncers. Nike Athletes––those who’ve both lost and won against the five-ring champ––follow suit in a two-minute salute to the 37-year-old basketball legend.
“He’s always trying to take your heart out, man, and you gotta be ready for that,” LeBron James, a fan and on-court opponent of Bryant, says about Two-Four’s intense playing style. “He wanted everything from you. He didn’t want you to have nothing.”
Naturally, Bryant’s aggressive yet graceful handling of the rock has not only made his stans revere him, but made his competitors loathe his greatness. The dichotomy between emotions could crumble any lesser player’s spirit but not Bryant’s confident nature. “I think he relishes being vilified by fans of the other team,” Bryant’s former coach, Phil Jackson, says.
Ultimately, the six-foot shooting guard brought the best out of his adversaries and the man in the mirror. “He wanted to be better than himself,” notes Neymar Jr., Brazilian pro footballer.
Since his 1996 draft class, alongside greats like Allen Iverson and Ray Allen, Bryant’s career, at its pinnacle, stands as one of the best highlight reels in the history of the game. Tonight, he will leave it all in LA’s Staples Center, better known as his second home. So whether you tune into #MambaDay or not, Kobe’s career is a blueprint for how to leave behind an indelible impression on whatever you touch.
“The hate just made him better,” adds Sanya Richards-Ross, Olympic track and field gold medalist. Thriving from the love and the hate, he was unstoppable. Bryant is “one of the deadliest strikers” as Indiana Pacer’s Paul George points out, while other athletes, including Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, peg Bryant as “obsessive,” “tenacious” and “venomous.”
Kobe stopped at nothing to win and fought to make friend or foe remember him. That is what working hard is all about.