Kobe Bryant made it official on Sunday Night -- this is his last NBA season. Our panel of Insiders assesses where Kobe ranks all time among NBA and L.A. legends, analyzes his greatest strengths and weakness and gives favorite memories.
1. Where does Kobe rank all-time among NBA players?
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant's teammates, as well as opponents, reacted Sunday to the announcement from the Los Angeles Lakers star that he will be retiring at the end of this season, Bryant's 20th in the NBA.
Lakers forward Julius Randle:
"For me, it's sad. It's a celebration of him, but for me, it's sad, because I grew up and that was my hero growing up. I tried to do everything like him. He's my idol, so for me, it's sad."
Lakers guard Nick Young:
"It was sad. Sat here in the room, and you all make it a little more sad when you watch the Kobe 'fro and the transform, and it's tough to see him go out like that, because it's no more Kobe. And that's like the face of the Lakers. Kobe's been a Laker for 20 years. It's like, 'Hey, Russell, Julius' -- that's some tough shoes to carry. Kobe put up a lot of buckets out here and a lot of rings and y'all young boys better be prepared."
Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson:
"I probably go back to my first game as a rookie. I think we played the Houston Rockets. He told me before the game, no matter how many minutes I play, try to fill up every column you can -- rebounds, steals, assists. Just go out there and compete and leave all your energy on the floor. Just try to do whatever you can to help the team."
"Kobe was my [Michael] Jordan. I didn't really have any moments of watching Jordan, but Kobe was my Jordan; watching him win championships. I remember just being at home watching the games with my mom, my grandma, my dad, [and] just idolizing him. After the game was over, I'd go in the front yard and try to imitate everything that I just saw. So he was, in my eyes -- not saying he's better than Jordan -- but, for me, growing up, that's who I idolized and look up to. That was the standard. He was the best player and it wasn't close."
LOS ANGELES -- During meditation, Kobe Bryant said, his mind has "always, always" drifted toward basketball. But recently, that began to change for the longtime Los Angeles Lakers superstar. His mind wandered to the game only sometimes, not all the time.
"To me, that was the first indicator that this game is not something that I can obsess over for much longer," Bryant said Sunday when he announced that he'll retire at the end of the 2015-16 season, his 20th in the NBA, all of them with the Lakers.
While Lakers coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak said they learned of Bryant's plans only in the past day or so, the 37-year-old Bryant said he has known for "a while."
"I've always said, if anything changes, I'll change my mind. But the problem became, for me, what does that really mean?" Bryant said after the Lakers' 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers. "A decision like this, you can't make that decision based on outside circumstances. That's an internal decision.
"Finally, I just had to just accept the fact that I don't want to do this anymore, and I'm OK with that. Once I accepted that, then it became time to just let everybody know. I mean, why not? It just takes a load off my shoulders and everybody else's. It's just the right thing to do."
Bryant said he knew coming into the season that this would be his final campaign, but he said he has no plans to retire before the season's end.
"No, because there's so much beauty in the pain of this thing," Bryant said. "It sounds really weird to say that, but I appreciate the really, really tough times as much as I appreciate the great times. And it's important to go through that progression because that's when you learn about the self.
"There's nothing that I would love more than being able to play this entire season, to go through all of these tough times, to be able to suit up and play on the road and play in these buildings for the last time. I'm looking forward to that."
His next game will be one of his most special, as the Lakers will visit his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant smiled when he was asked about being the old man in the locker room now.
"I feel like their grandfather," Bryant said. "I'm not like the older guy. I'm like triple OG. You see what I'm saying? LeBron [James] and those other guys are the old guys now, and I'm way older than them. So they're vets and I'm like a triple vet."
The 17-year old kid who needed his parents to co-sign his first NBA contract back in 1996 is now 37 years old, and on Sunday, he announced that this season, his 20th in the NBA, would be his last.
Bryant will be the first to admit he feels his age every time he steps onto the court or into the Lakers' locker room now. Not because his body hurts -- although it usually does these days -- but because he's reminded of how old he is when he looks at the players around him. The NBA's youngest current player, Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, was born Oct. 30, 1996, six days before Bryant scored his first NBA point. Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell was just eight months old when Bryant made his NBA debut.
"We were playing Portland and a kid from the bench said something to me like, 'We're going to beat you guys tonight,'" Bryant said Sunday. "And I looked at him and I said, 'I got one rule. If you weren't born when I started playing, you can't talk trash. It's a simple rule.' And he looked at me and said, 'Yes, sir.' No argument."
Bryant was hoping to avoid a Derek Jeter-like "farewell tour" during his final season, but after Sunday's announcement, it might be hard to avoid the inevitable of not only receiving gifts and accolades from opposing teams on the road but having younger players wanting to meet Bryant, which has already happened this season.
"When we played Detroit, we had the captain's meeting and they allow two captains," Bryant said., "And I go up there, and they had Andre Drummond and the other captain and there was another player up there but I couldn't see who it was because he was behind Andre Drummond. And the official goes, 'You can't have three captains, you're only allowed to have two.' And he goes, 'Oh no, I just wanted to shake [Kobe's] hand.' I didn't know who it was. He was behind Andre Drummond. All I saw was a hand come from around Andre and I shook it."
Even Lakers forward Metta World Peace, who is 36 years old and won a championship with Bryant in 2010, took a step back and had to appreciate the moment of Bryant's career coming to an end when he read a letter Bryant wrote to fans, which was handed out to everyone in attendance at Staples Center before Sunday's game. After World Peace read it in front of his locker, he went back to the team's training room to find Bryant so he could personally sign his letter. Bryant did, penning, "Love you like a brother forever, Metta."
"This is it," Bryant said.
The 37-year-old Bryant recounted the story Sunday when he publicly announced he would be retiring at the end of this season, his 20th in the NBA.
"[Jordan] is actually one of the first people that I told over the summer," Bryant said Sunday. "We've been in frequent contact."
"We had some laughs, went back and forth about it," Bryant said. "But the important thing for him, he said, 'Just enjoy it. No matter what, just enjoy it. Don't let anybody take that away from you, no matter what happens, good or bad. Enjoy it, man.'"
Lakers coach Byron Scott said he considers Bryant to be "right there with MJ" in terms of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history.
LOS ANGELES -- It's not the where of Kobe Bryant so much as the when. We get so caught up in rankings that we don't think of timing. The polarizing properties of Kobe mean the arguments over his place among the NBA greats will continue long into his retirement, so let's take a moment to discuss the one element that's not up for debate: He was the NBA's most important player from 2000 to 2009.
Kobe was the bridge from the Michael Jordan era until the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry took control. Maybe Shaquille O'Neal was more dominant and Tim Duncan provided a more consistent foundation for championships, but Kobe's greatness and popularity made him the most important -- both for the fans and the wave of players that followed him into the league.
"Kobe was my Jordan," said Paul George, who had been on the planet for just more than a year when Jordan won his first championship in 1991. "I didn't really have many moments of watching Jordan, but Kobe was my Jordan. Watching him winning championships, I remember just being at home with my mom, with my grandma, with my dad, just idolizing him. After the game was over, I'd go in the front yard and try to imitate everything I just saw.
"I'm not saying he's better than Jordan, but for me, growing up, that's who I idolized and looked up to. That was the standard. He was the best player, and it wasn't close."
George has been great at putting things in full context lately, lest he be subjected to a barrage of #wellactually tweets, and he framed this one perfectly. Just because Kobe wasn't Jordan it didn't mean he wasn't Jordan-like, that he didn't have just as big an impact to younger folks whose memories of the NBA exist only in HDTV transmissions.
Kobe was the one to bring the lessons he learned from Jordan to the new generation and to inspire them the way he once drew inspiration from Jordan.
Sunday night, in a postgame news conference held to follow up on his retirement announcement in The Players' Tribune, Bryant mentioned some of the players he still speaks to and the lessons he tries to impart. He name-checked Durant, Damian Lillard