There will never mark a time where Kobe Bryant will ever play in an NBA game again. So those five NBA championship runs and endless clutch performances will represent nearly all of what Bryant accomplished in his 20-year NBA career. So will his endless ability to overcome injuries.
As Bryant accepted the ESPY Icon award on Wednesday at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, the Lakers’ former star made it clear, however, he has yet to write the final word on his legacy.
“I’m far from done,” Bryant said. “My next dream is to be honored one day for inspiring the next generation of athletes, to have a dream, sacrifice for it and never ever rest in the middle.”
Bryant may be able to rest more than in recent seasons when he went through constant treatment and training on his surgically repaired right shoulder. He may have finally gasped for air after he finished his final game with a 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Since then, though, Bryant has immediately channeled those competitive juices into diving into initial projects on Kobe, Inc., his self-founded company that has ventured into storytelling. So much that Bryant reported to work the next morning following his career finale.
It perfectly described his mindset that enabled Bryant to become the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer and the only player in Lakers’ franchise history to play for all 20 years with them. That could also describe former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and former U.S. Women’s soccer star Abby Wambach, the other recipients of the ESPY’s Icon award.
“I have a lot of respect for these two. We grew up in our sports together. I know the sacrifices that went along with standing here today,” Bryant said. “We’re not on this stage just because of talent or ability. We’re up here because of 4 a.m. We’re up here because of two-a-days or five-a-days. We’re up here because we had a dream that we would let nothing stand in our way. If anything tried to bring us down, we used it to make us stronger. We were never satisfied, never finished and we’ll never be retired. I believe there is time for resting at the end. But for me, that time is not now.”
And yet, Bryant’s final season differed greatly than that of Manning and Wambach.
“Abbey decided to retire after a compelling World Cup victory. Peyton hung up his cleats after another Super Bowl win,” Bryant said. “So for me, I tend to do things a little differently. I felt an impressive 17-65 season would be a bold statement to wrap up my 20-year career.”
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