Kobe Bryant is not dying, he's retiring. That's an important distinction because I have a strong feeling this won't be the last time we'll hear his deep voice, see his intense face or be moved by his unmatched sense of poise and competitiveness. Other Lakers greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson have made their presence felt in social causes and discussions and business and health causes over the last three decades since their respective retirements, and I expect Kobe to take up his own causes and engage in his own share of business dealings. I'm not sure coaching or owning an NBA team is in his future like fellow Lakers alum Derek Fisher or his idol Michael Jordan, but I do think Kobe won't venture too far away from sports. His first official investment was to put millions into the Derek Jeter-owned sports news site, The Players Tribune, the same site where Kobe shared his retirement announcement, and I can envision Kobe doing more investments of the sort to stretch his fierce, athlete-driven mindset into other arenas of the game.
Kobe Bryant became my favorite athlete of all-time because he combined all the things I loved about great athletes. He had the flash and chip on his shoulder like Deion Sanders with the consistency and unsung hero status of John Stockton (his Karl Malone was Shaq, of course). He had the Jordan moves with the Kevin Garnett intensity. He had the epic interviews and quotes, once comparing himself to Pinnochio's creater Gepetto, along with the no-nonsense style of dismissing those without the competitive spirit and getting the best out of those previously coddled (Pau Gasol).
Kobe Bryant isn't the guy we've come to look to for opinions on society and civil rights nor was Jordan. Kobe Bryant isn't the guy who we expect to become a billionaire the quickest (that spot is reserved for LeBron James, who himself has stated it's a goal) nor to spoil his millions the soonest (a la basketball era peer, Allen Iverson). Kobe Bryant will have a fine retirement albeit unlikely to generate the star power that Magic Johnson's HIV-forced retirement has done nor the agony, awe and vitriol that Brett Favre's back-and-forth retirement inspired.
Kobe Bryant truly left it on the court as we've seen in the past few years with injury after injury mounting what is a final if not sudden defeat to the still-undefeated champ in sports - Father Time. He won 5 rings (2 without Shaq to Shaq's 1 without Kobe for those keeping score), the ultimate measure of a Hall of Famer who could list maybe 5 or 6 others who'd be considered his superiors or peers. He won an MVP crown and was robbed of at least two others during Steve Nash's epic run that was well-timed with Kobe's rape allegations and ensuing swing in public opinion that was the biggest scandal in sports of the 21st Century until Tiger Woods' ex-wife clubbed his SUV in Florida. He won Olympic Gold Medals for his country, including some of the most clutch play in international basketball history in the Beijing 2008 Games with guys like LeBron, Wade, Paul and Anthony on the court.
Kobe's career wasn't as illustrious as Jordan's and not as dominating as LeBron's, but it's the run of 40-point games (something only Jordan could come close to), scoring 81 points (something only Wilt ever topped), winning the dunk contest (something LeBron was too fearful to compete in) and doing whatever it took including getting 15 rebounds (a dozen more than Kevin Garnett; despite a 6-for-24 shooting performance) in an epic Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals that will cement Kobe's legacy as the best NBA player (alongside Tim Duncan) between the two best players of all-time.
"Are you a different animal and the same beast?" Kobe once asked Kanye West and a slew of other mega-successful celebrities in his classic Kobe System commercials with Nike.
We know very well that Kobe Bryant was a beast on the court. When Kobe hangs it up after this season, we're going to find out how much of his own advice he's taken. Will he be a different animal? Only time will tell.