"This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it's time to say goodbye," Kobe Bryant poetically penned for The Players' Tribune, announcing that he'd retire at the end of the 2015-16 campaign.
When No. 24 hangs up his sneakers for the final time, the sport of basketball will have lost a legend. Love him or hate him—with Bryant, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground—you have to respect what he's meant to the NBA.
He'll go down as one of history's best players. Personally, I had him at No. 11 when I ranked the top 100 legends of the Association's many years, and the unfortunate nature of his play throughout the swan song likely won't influence that placement.
Summing up Bryant's career isn't easy.
During the remaining portion of the 2015-16 campaign, you'll likely read countless pieces waxing poetic about his spot in history and how much he meant to the Los Angeles Lakers. Given the amount of time and energy he's poured into his craft, it's only appropriate.
Bryant can't reasonably be boiled down into a handful of numbers, but that's not going to stop us from trying. Here are four stats that sum up his career.
Stat No. 1: 25.3 career points per game and 55.2 true shooting percentage
Forget about the miserable shooting percentages you've seen Bryant post during the last few seasons of his spectacular career. Though it's undeniable that he's been playing at a low level, he has a pretty valid excuse—his legs have completely abandoned him after a litany of injuries and the ill effects of that pesky old Father Time.
During his prime years, the shooting guard never submitted sparkling field-goal percentages. But it's not like he had to, as his athleticism and aggressive mentality allowed him to charge toward the hoop and earn mountains of trips to the free-throw line.
When he won a scoring title in 2005-06, he averaged 35.4 points per game while shooting an even 45 percent from the field, but he also made a staggering 10.2 trips to the free-throw line during his typical outing, converting those freebies at an 85-percent clip. True shooting percentage factors in those journeys to the charity stripe, as well as work from beyond the three-point arc, making it a more accurate picture of shooting and scoring efficiency.
Dating back to 1996-97, when Bryant entered the league as a fresh-faced teenager from Philadelphia, he doesn't just have one of the highest lifetime scoring averages. His actual level of efficiency also stacks up quite nicely against the marks submitted by other top point-producing talents:
Next time you hear Bryant discussed as a gunner, you should choose one of two ways to respond.
First, you could argue that he doesn't deserve to be described as such. He might have taken a lot of shots with a high degree of difficulty, but he was fantastic at making them and remained aggressive enough to produce efficient scoring numbers. Second, you could concur, but qualify the description with the claim that few have ever been so good for so long at advantageously gunning.
Either way, he'll go down as one of the best scoring threats of his generation. His level of volume and corresponding efficiency stand out, even among the top offensive players this millennium. But perhaps most importantly, the latter still wasn't a concern for him.
"In a league that has rapidly become obsessed with efficiency, Bryant was never scared of being inefficient, provided his team came out with a win," Benjamin Hoffman recently wrote for the New York Times.
More often than not, his team did.
Stat No. 2: 28,369,325 votes
Up through the 2012 All-Star festivities, we have records of the 10 biggest guard and forward vote-getters in each conference, as well as the top five centers from each half of the NBA. From 2013 through the present, the ballots changed, such that 15 frontcourt and 10 backcourt players are represented from the East and West each year.
Since Bryant entered the league in 1996, a whopping 226 different players have earned one of those coveted spots. Not a single one of them registered nearly as many total votes:
Bryant has paced the league in All-Star voting on three occasions, and the dates are arguably as impressive as the sum of his career votes.
First, he beat the field during the 2002-03 season, back when he was a 24-year-old rising superstar on a Lakers squad that also featured Shaquille O'Neal. He'd hover around the top without earning the No. 1 spot for nearly a decade before 2010-11. Then, at 32, he was quite obviously in an entirely different phase of his career.
Two years later, he paced the league for the third time—something only he, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving have ever done. It was his last full season as a true upper-echelon player in the Association, but it's not like his popularity has just died away in conjunction with his health and overall effectiveness.
Darren Rovell @darrenrovell
Remarkable photo: @kobebryant at NikeTown in Guangzhou, China this weekend http://t.co/ke3XL1xJp32015-8-4 17:09:44
Pictures like that, shared by ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, don't exist without the player in question becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
Bryant's career is about so much more than the numbers he produced and the titles he won. It also hinges on his overwhelming popularity—both domestically and internationally. If anyone from the post-Jordan generation has become a true superstar, he's The One.
Stat No. 3: 4.206 MVP Shares
Somehow, Bryant only managed to hoist up the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA's MVP once during his Hall of Fame career, earning the honor for his work with the Lakers in 2007-08. The diminutive nature of that number is a bit misleading, since he was so extraordinarily valuable to the franchise, but always seemed to fall behind one or two other players in the award voting.
And that's where the concept of MVP shares comes into play.
Rather than handing out a trophy and declaring everyone else non-MVPs, this metric looks at placement on the ballot. A unanimous MVP will be awarded a full MVP share, while someone who earns votes but finishes behind the eventual winner will earn a partial MVP share—the equivalent of the percentage of possible points received.
In 2008, for example, Bryant received 82 of a possible 126 first-place votes, and his other placements on the ballots left him earning 1,105 of the 1,260 potential voting points. Not only did he win MVP, but he earned 0.877 MVP shares that year, while Chris Paul came in second place with 0.706 MVP shares.
As opposed to the traditional system, this gives us a more accurate picture of perceived value over the course of a career, and Bryant fares quite well among the all-time leaders:
Finishing at No. 11 is nothing to be embarrassed about, especially given the names of the players listed ahead of him.
But if we look only at stars who are still active, he stands out even more:
Is Bryant the best player of the post-Jordan generation? MVP shares would put him in that conversation, though some—including yours truly—would argue he belongs third in a group that also includes Tim Duncan and LeBron James.
Once more, there's no shame in that.
Whether erroneously or accurately, Bryant might not have been deemed the league's Most Valuable Player on more than one occasion. But he was one of the NBA's most important standouts throughout his entire career, and that's even more meaningful.
Stat No. 4: Five Rings
"I just want No. 6, man," Bryant said back in 2012, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin, when it seemed like there was a legitimate possibility he could eventually adorn the first finger on his second hand with a championship ring. "I'm not asking for too much, man. Just give me a sixth ring, damn it."
Why was that sixth championship so special to the future Hall of Famer? Because Michael Jordan, the man whose game inspired his own, finished his career with six titles.
To Bryant, it's irrelevant that Bill Russell won a record-setting 11 championships, or that the legendary center's Boston Celtics teammates all seem to grace the top of the ring-earning leaderboard. Robert Horry getting to polish seven pieces of jewelry doesn't matter. Six is the magic number because—despite its ninth-place spot in those aforementioned rankings—that's where the presumptive G.O.A.T. ended up.
Bryant's career has always been about chasing titles and emulating Jordan, to the point that we get videos like the one above (yes, there are plenty more of them gracing the YouTube archives). And that's why it's abundantly fitting that he'll finish his career with five championships.
It's an incredible number, currently putting him in a tie for 14th place in NBA history. It also leaves him on the precipice of the all-time great—an appropriate spot for a man who made people believe that the totality of Jordan's career actually could be caught, but ultimately fell just shy of getting to that same pinnacle.
Again (of course) like Jordan, Bryant was incredible in the playoffs throughout his career.
In May, I looked at the top 100 playoff performers of all time, using new metrics that evaluated each contributor's individual impact and the credit they should receive for advancing deep into the postseason (details here). After looking at how every player in NBA history who has suited up in at least one playoff game fares in each of those two categories, Bryant is one of the few who truly stands out in a positive way:
Brushing shoulders—or faces, in this case—with legends such as Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen has to be viewed as an achievement, especially because this methodology leaves Bryant as the No. 8 playoff performer of all time. In order, he trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Russell, Jordan, Duncan, Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and O'Neal.
And doesn't that provide an even more accurate picture of what Bryant's legacy will end up becoming?
We could focus on so many other numbers—his league-leading points-per-game average in 2005-06, his surprisingly impressive assist numbers, his record number of seasons playing for the same franchise or something else entirely.
But above all else, he's been one of the sport's greatest winners, and the unfortunate ending to his time in the NBA shouldn't even partially negate that fact.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into Nov. 30's games.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.