Whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect what Kobe Bryant has done in his NBA career and what he continues to do even as time begins to catch up with him.
Though Bryant is just 34 years old, he is already in his 17th NBA season, all of which he has played for the Los Angeles Lakers. In his career, he has risen out of the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal to emerge as the Lakers' franchise centerpiece and has made his name as one of the best basketball players in the world.
Kobe's numerous accolades speak for themselves: five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, two Olympic gold medals, one MVP award in 2008, and three-time All-Star Game MVPs to go with his 14 All-Star selections. He also boasts career averages of 25.4 points, 4.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and two scoring titles under his belt. Speaking of scoring, Bryant also has the record of second-most points scored in a game when he dropped an astonishing 81 points on the Toronto Raptors in 2006.
Even outside of his stats and trophies, Kobe remains one of the most feared and respected players to step on the hardwood. Not since the days of a certain number 23 have we seen a player with this much competitive fire and drive to be the very best in the league. I'm not trying to start a Jordan vs. Kobe argument here, but the two do bear many similar qualities that have made them some of the best players to ever pick up a basketball.
The years may be numbered for Kobe, but he continues to battle against the wear and tear, constantly playing through numerous injuries. His leadership is also unquestioned, even on a Lakers team filled with other superstars like Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Kobe was quoted earlier this year, basically stating that he remained the alpha dog for the Lakers, showing that he was not intimidated by all the star power his team had acquired.
No real time frame has been set for Bryant in terms of calling it quits, but there's a part of me that believes he'll be playing basketball until he is physically incapacitated. Until then, he will continue to build his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of our time and possibly all time.