He's the last man standing from the 1996 draft. While Bryant, the No. 13 pick that year, is in the midst of his farewell tour, Allen Iverson, the top choice in Kobe's class, is preparing for his likely Hall of Fame induction. The Answer officially retired in October 2013 but played his last NBA minutes with the Philadelphia 76ers in February 2010.
If not for Metta World Peace's presence, Bryant would be both the Los Angeles Lakers' lone champion and the only active member of the roster who was on hand for any of the team's five titles since 2000.
More than anything, he's the only Kobe Bryant around.
Bryant's resume is about as unique as they come. His 15 All-NBA selections are tied for the most ever. His 12 All-Defensive nods are tied for the second-most and his 17 All-Star appearances are the most behind only fellow Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If not for Tim Duncan's five rings, Bryant's five would stand alone as the most of any superstar in his generation.
And unlike Duncan, Bryant can boast about his Slam Dunk Contest crown to his grandkids, whenever they come around.
"The Kobe Bryants aren't around no more," Dwyane Wade told ESPN's Michael Wallace before the Miami Heat hosted Bryant for what turned out to be his last trip to South Beach as a player. "There are good young players, but there will never be another Kobe."
Perhaps no one in history who never teamed with Bryant in the NBA can claim as many connections to him as can Wade.
Both won their first championships as 20-something shooting guard sidekicks to Shaquille O'Neal before winning back-to-back titles without him. Both made their bones as high-flying rim rockers before settling in as crafty post operators. Both took their cues from Michael Jordan—Bryant as an obsessive competitor, Wade as a Chicago native.
And both have produced per-36-minute lines over their careers that are eerily similar:
But as prolific as Wade has been throughout his decorated career, even he would hardly qualify as the sort of gunner and NBA "horse" artist that Bryant has been over the past 20 years. Where Wade has averaged 20 or more shots per game just once in his 13 pro seasons, Bryant has topped that mark a whopping 13 times.
Only three other players in NBA history have ever logged at least 10 such seasons:
|NBA Players with 10-Plus Seasons of 20-Plus FGA Per Game|
|20-Plus FGA/G Seasons||Career FGA/Game|
Of those three, only Baylor shot worse from the field (43.1 percent) over his career than Bryant (45 percent). It's no wonder, then, that the Mamba is the NBA's all-time leader in missed field goals.
As for the future of the NBA, you might think Bryant's penchant for daredevil volume shooting might be a trait shared by the game's current studs and up-and-comers.
After all, today's top guards and wings—Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson, among others—grew up watching the Mamba work his magic in purple and gold. Wade went so far as to call him "the greatest player of our era," per Wallace.
But like the triangle offense in which Bryant did his best work, his style of play can be difficult to track down. Of the 16 active guards or wings under the age of 30 who have appeared in at least one All-Star Game, only two have logged complete seasons in which they averaged at least 20 shots per game.
Those two—Durant and Westbrook—happen to be teammates. So far through 2015-16, the former has launched 17.3 shots per night while the latter has logged 18.8.
This isn't to say that volume shooters are as ding-dong dead as the Wicked Witch of the West. This season, four players are averaging 20 or more attempts, with two others creeping above 19:
|Players Averaging 20-Plus FGA Per Game in 2015-16|
Bryant, for one, might be pleased to see that. He certainly was during the 2015 NBA Finals, when he tweeted in support of LeBron James taking shot after shot after shot for the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers:
Then again, James' exploits might not be the best endorsement for Bryant's tactics. James wound up hitting 39.8 percent of a whopping 32.7 shots per game, and his Cavaliers fell to the Warriors in six. The defending champions' pass-happy approach has since been enshrined as the gold standard of NBA basketball.
Meanwhile, James and his fellow members of the current 20-shot club have a couple of things in common that set them apart from Bryant.
For one, they're all dishing out at least six assists per game. Moreover, setting up teammates to that extent is nothing new for those guys. Bryant, on the other hand, has finished two full seasons out of 20 with six or more dimes a night on his ledger:
They all fit the modern mold of what a dominant perimeter player can and should be. Where Bryant once ruled the NBA with a maniacal focus on putting the ball in the basket, subsequent generations of superstars have gravitated more toward making the most efficient plays possible, whether the shot flies from their fingertips or those of their teammates.
Post-ups and isolations are now more about drawing double-teams and starting chain reactions than getting a singular scoring talent a look at the hoop. Mid-range shots—the bread-and-butter of Bryant's legend—have become anathema to basketball math.
Bryant's impending retirement, then, could be the death knell to the league's storied tradition of guards and wings—from Jerry West and Julius Erving to Jordan and Iverson—shouldering such extreme scoring loads.
But what truly makes Bryant both one of a kind and the last of his kind isn't just his freewheeling form, but the equity he built up to go down firing.
"He’s got 20 years in this league. We might not have six guys with 20 years in this league combined," Lakers head coach Byron Scott explained in November, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "He has that privilege. From a coaching standpoint, I want Kobe to be Kobe. Other guys haven’t earned that right yet."
The NBA may never see the likes of Bryant in that regard again. He's the first and only player in league history to spend two decades with one franchise.
Even if another prodigious and prolific scorer comes along, the odds of him resembling Bryant in game and distinction are exceedingly slim, if not already buried six feet underground.
All stats are via Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted, and are accurate as of games played on Dec. 20, 2015.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.