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Kobe Bryant approaching his final fadeaway

Get into the post. Call for the ball. Dribble once to get into the preferred position, dribble again to assert dominance. Gather yourself. Fake one way. Spin the other. Off-balance, one foot in the air, take the contested shot, watch it go down. Swish.

You can’t tell the story of basketball without Kobe Bryant. Bryant can’t go anywhere without his fans chanting “Kobe, Kobe.” A member of the VIP basketball club with his hand stamped for lifetime entry, this is the first season in Bryant’s professional tenure that a mention of the Lakers doesn’t conjure images of Kobe alone.

Now finally building a team for the future instead of foolishly trying to keep Bryant’s (closed) title window cracked open, Los Angeles is thinking about life after Kobe when considering what their future might look like. A new reality for the Lakers, Bryant and anyone who has been associated with the franchise for the last two decades, Kobe’s final fadeaway will be about much more than just a seemingly impossible shot.

How does a franchise that has built its most recent success on Bryant’s back move forward with a team full of kids? For so long, Kobe has meant the Lakers and the Lakers have meant Kobe. Now with a roster that is attempting to build around two top-ten picks in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, two players who barely eclipse Kobe’s age (37) when you combine their years together (39), there is no blueprint for phasing out one of the most iconic players the franchise—and the NBA—has ever seen.

Nobody knows what to expect from Bryant—not even Kobe himself. Having combined to participate in just 41 games over the last two seasons and set to play a supporting role instead of his traditional one as the lead, No. 24 is now the second or third violin in an orchestra that he used to call his as its conductor.

While neither Kobe nor the Lakers have drawn a line in the sand and said this is the final stand, it’s hard to see it any other way. At the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign, Bryant will have spent 20 seasons in the league, all with the Lakers, despite being just 37 years old. Although Kobe has been the face for so much of this historical franchise’s previous glory, the Lakers are rightfully prioritizing an uncertain future.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 shoots a fadeaway jumper as San Antonio Spurs forward Fabricio Oberto #7.tries to cover him in the first half of the Western Conference Playoffs game #2 against the San Antonio Spurs played at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, on Friday, May 23, 2008 where the Lakers finished on top 46-37.

Kobe Bryant’s fadeaway is a shot we’ll never forget, and one we should appreciate this season.

 

A hardheaded kid who believed it was his way or the highway when he first started blowing through the NBA, Bryant’s final fadeaway is about so much more than his on-court performance. Now a teacher to Randle, Russell and the others desperate to learn from the fountain of greatness, Kobe has clearly embraced the finish line when he previously fought relentlessly to avoid it.

In an NBA where turnover is the expectation and continuity is rare, Kobe has served as a constant. Love him, hate him or landing somewhere in between, it’s hard to find a person who doesn’t believe the league is more interesting when the Kobe factor is involved. A magnet for attention and a vacuum for both praise and criticism, Bryant is a staple among the game’s most polarizing players. There isn’t a fan of basketball that offers a “meh” reaction when Kobe’s name is uttered, and there is something to be said for someone who elicits such raw, real emotion from others by simply being himself.

And that’s the thing about Kobe—he’s always been this way. He’s never been afraid to be authentic, never been afraid to succeed or fail on his terms and never been afraid to respond in the media on or off the court. Perhaps that’s why calling him the ‘Last Alpha Dog’ is so unbelievably fitting. With an NBA that has constantly changed around him, Bryant has always stuck to the script that had continued to bring success.

For so long, we’ve been able to say, “well at least they have Kobe” when assessing what the Lakers might be able to achieve. For so many seasons, we’ve been able to look at Bryant’s stat lines in the box score and simply shake our heads in amazement. Imagine how turbulent the last few years would have been in Lakerland if Los Angeles couldn’t fall back and count on Kobe.

The next time Kobe gets the ball on the wing, goes for his patented dribble-spin move and takes an off-balance shot, we should all be watching with eyes wide open like we have for so long.

Get into the post. Call for the ball. Dribble once to get into the preferred position, dribble again to assert dominance. Gather yourself. Fake one way. Spin the other. Off-balance, one foot in the air, take the contested shot, watch it go down. Swish.

We shouldn’t expect Kobe Bryant’s final fadeaway to look any different.     





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