And, while he's not done giving us breathtaking performances and thrilling accomplishments, with the way this season ended, it was only fitting to look back on what Kobe has accomplished so far in his storied NBA career.
From jumping straight from high school to the NBA, teaming with Shaquille O’Neal to create one of the deadliest duos in history, and finally to a rebirth that saw three straight Finals appearances, Kobe has made his mark both as an individual player and part of championship teams.
He’s been a league MVP, scoring champ, two-time Finals MVP and scored 81 points in a single game.
So, how do Kobe’s greatest accomplishments rank? Here they are.
Kobe garnered four All-Star game MVP’s, including one in his hometown of Philadelphia, and in LA in 2011. He’s won the award four times: 2002, 2007, 2009 and 2011.
Kobe overcame massive physical issues, including a terrible knee that would need offseason surgery and a broken finger on his shooting hand, to carry the Lakers to the NBA title in 2010.
Phil Jackson would say later that he was surprised that the team even won the title, given how physically damaged Kobe was.
Kobe got one last shot against Michael Jordan, and he didn’t fail to deliver.
Granted, this was a 40-year old MJ playing for the Washington Wizards, but Kobe made sure to sear a 42-point performance into MJ’s memory.
The greatest to ever play the game would soon retire, but the torch had been passed to the player closest to MJ in league history.
Kobe represented the U.S. as part of the “Redeem Team” that went to China and came back with gold, thus restoring the United States' place at the top of the basketball world.
Kobe would focus on the defensive end of the court for most of the Olympics, taking on the challenge of defending their opponents' best players.
However, in the Gold Medal game, with the score close and Spain pressing, Team USA turned to Kobe to deliver the gold. He was the best player on the court—especially as the game wound down—leading the scoring charge and bringing gold back to USA soil.
2008 was the turning point for Kobe Bryant.
He had reached the pinnacle of his sport, having re-climbed the mountain to the top by taking his Lakers to the NBA Finals.
Although he lost to the Boston Celtics, his image improved. His new light was further cemented when he led Team USA to the Olympic gold medal in the summer of 2008.
Any doubt of Kobe's being the most popular player in the NBA was erased in the following years, as Kobe’s jersey outsold even LeBron James’ globally.
Kobe seemed actually more beloved when James bolted Cleveland in the summer of 2010, taking his talents to South Beach.
Kobe had restored his image from his personal problems and legal issues in 2003-2004.
I’m actually talking about his co-existence with Shaquille O’Neal.
Kobe and Shaq forged a working relationship that created the greatest and most powerful duo in NBA history.
It didn’t last, as the two ultimately couldn’t play together, but for that brief moment in time, the two were unbelievable.
Kobe partnered with a second big man, Pau Gasol, in the second part of his career that produced three straight visits to the NBA Finals and two rings.
Kobe might have learned a few lessons from his time with Shaq, and for the most part, Pau and Kobe got along and won.
No one knows how long this new partnership will last, or even if it has already begun to crack, as evidenced by the recent sweep in this year's playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.
In any case, one thing is for sure: Since Pau Gasol came to LA, nothing has been the same.
Kobe’s hit his share of game winners over his career, so many that we’d have to have a separate slideshow just for those.
But a few stand out and come instantly to mind.
Kobe’s game-winners versus the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 playoffs have to be at the top of that list. Kobe hit a last-second layup to send the game into overtime and then hit a game-winning jumper from 18 feet to take the victory in OT.
While Kobe’s 81 points in a game stands as a remarkable performance, Kobe also scored 62 points in three quarters versus the Dallas Mavericks.
He then sat the entire fourth quarter.
Many fans point to this performance not only as a precursor to his 81 outburst, but also believe that Kobe would have exceeded that amount if he had continued to play in that game.
Who knows? No matter; still a remarkable performance.
This is the same coach who, at the first go-round, called Kobe “uncoachable.”
In 2005-2006, Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers. Not only was it remarkable that Dr. Jerry Buss, the owner of the team, wanted Jackson back as his head coach, but that Jackson wanted to come back and coach Kobe Bryant.
They hadn't had the best relationship during their first stint together.
But both Jackson and Kobe moved beyond their early relationship and forged a new partnership that saw them return to the playoffs, and then to three straight NBA Finals, winning two in a row.
There's a level of respect between these two now that is undeniable.
Kobe’s first All-Star appearance was also the most rare. He was voted into the game by fans even though he wasn’t a starter for his own team. In the 1997-1998 season, Kobe came off the bench for the Lakers.
But that didn’t stop fans from wanting to see him in the All-Star Game. And, Kobe didn’t disappoint, even having a one-on-one, mano-a-mano moment against Michael Jordan in the closing minutes of the All-Star Game.
Kobe would also come in second for the Sixth Man of the Year in 1998.
People forget that Kobe was a leaper when he came into the league. And, in 1997, he didn’t disappoint, as he won the Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend.
Kobe’s consistency as one of the league’s best players is evidenced by his 13 All-Star Game appearances.
Kobe did it on both ends of the court, not just in being an offensive threat. He garnered success as a first-team All-Defensive Team selection nine times. He could lock down opponents.
This is the ninth first-team All-Defense selection for Bryant, who has also made second team All-Defense twice and third team twice.
This past season, it was actually surprising that Kobe made the All-Defensive Team, since he had knee issues throughout the year, but that is just a testament to his reputation as a defensive player in this year's performance on the defensive end.
Seven NBA Finals appearances in 15 years of playing is a great performance average, nearly a Finals every other year of his career.
Rings somehow matter in NBA lore. Kobe's won his fair share.
Kobe won three with Shaquille O’Neal, but also brought LA two more on his own, when he was the number one player on the Lakers. Kobe is also tied with Laker great Magic Johnson with five rings apiece.
This is one of those awards that really counts, because it says you were the best at the most important time.
Well, Kobe did it not once but twice.
He probably could have been given the award once or twice during the Shaq years as well, but two straight Finals MVPs, in 2009 and 2010, are quite an accomplishment in their own right.
Not only did Kobe set the second most points in a game with 81, but he also led the league in scoring twice.
If he had played under a difference offense, rather than Phil Jackson’s sharing triangle offense, or if Kobe had been the focal point of a team for his entire career, he surely would have led the league in scoring multiple times.
And, while Kobe is all about the team's winning, I’m sure he likes this individual accomplishment as well.
Kobe not only led his team to an NBA title in 2009, but also was the league’s MVP.
It’s actually amazing that he only won the award once, but it is as much a popularity contest as a performance award. Phil Jackson only won Coach of the Year once as well, so sometimes the best isn’t always rewarded.
But in 2009, Kobe was.
In 2006, Kobe scored the league’s highest point total in a game with 81 versus the Toronto Raptors and landed in second place on the all-time list behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.
What makes this performance Kobe’s best and most remarkable is that he did it in the modern era of stronger defenses and he did it as a perimeter player, while Wilt was a dominant center.
Who is Kobe Bryant? Want to learn the details of Kobe Bryant’s legendary work ethic? Or why Kobe considers himself a “talented overachiever” or an “outcast” for much of his life? Check out the new book, The Kobe Code: Eight Principles For Success- An Insider's Look into Kobe Bryant's Warrior Life & the Code He Lives By, at www.PatMixon.com.