It may not have been the most surprising development, but Kobe Bryant’s announcement Sunday that this season would be his last sent ripples around the NBA. It wasn’t long before fellow players began to pay tribute to the 17-time all-star.
As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Nets guard Wayne Ellington had a special connection with Bryant, who began to make his legend at Lower Merion High School in the Philly suburbs. But that connection only grew stronger last season, when Ellington spent the year playing alongside Bryant with the Lakers.
“It meant a lot,” Ellington said after the Nets beat the Pistons in Brooklyn Sunday night. “He’s a guy that inspired me, honestly. As a young kid, to get out there, I used to be out there on the court trying to be Kobe. Man, it’s crazy that he’s going to hang it up, but at the same time, he’s leaving a legacy that’s unbelievable. Especially just his generation.
“Kobe is, in my mind, the best player in our generation, our era so far, so it’s crazy that he’s going to go out, but at the same time, it’s a blessing. I’m sure he’s happy and he’s ready to spend some time with his family and relax. When we played them [earlier in November], though, he told me. I said, ‘I see I’ve got the family with you.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got the family. This is my last go-round.’ So that took me back a bit, too.”
Another Net with Philly ties, rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, got the chance to live out his own personal dream during that Nets-Lakers game. Hollis-Jefferson, who had been hoping to meet Bryant for years, finally got the chance to do so.
“It was great to be in his presence, to hear from him,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “[For him] to tell me that he’s watching, he’s noticing … it means the world. It gives you a sense of hope that you can be something special. That’s all I’m trying to be, something special.”
Many players used Twitter to express their sentiments:
Much respect to @kobebryant as he announces his retirement after the season. A fierce competitor and one of the greatest to ever do it!
— Eric Gordon (@TheofficialEG10) November 30, 2015
Thanks for everything to the greatest basketball player of all time Kobe Bryant. The game will never be the same!! pic.twitter.com/usVftyfIKu
— Jusuf Nurkić (@nurkic23) November 30, 2015
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) November 30, 2015
— Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) November 30, 2015
— Omri Casspi (@Casspi18) November 30, 2015
Bean has always been my favorite player since a kid. One of the best to ever do it!
— Wilson Chandler (@wilsonchandler) November 30, 2015
Game won't be the same w/o Kobe. My favorite player growing up. Didn't really get the chance to play him smh but blessed to watch him
— Archie Goodwin (@A1Laflare10) November 30, 2015
The game won't be the same once Kobe is gone…
— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) November 30, 2015
Not everyone, however, was celebrating Bryant’s announcement. Houston center Dwight Howard, who had a contentious relationship with Bryant during their one season together in Los Angeles before Howard left the Lakers in free agency, was asked after Sunday’s Rockets-Knicks game what he’d learned from Bryant during their year as teammates.
“Did I learn something from him? Howard said, followed by a laugh and an uncomfortable pause. ”Oh, man … we’re going to go to the next question now.”
Prior to that, though, Howard was complimentary of Bryant, extolling his many accomplishments throughout his 20-year career.
“Oh, man. Kobe is one of the greatest to ever play the game,” Howard said. “He had an amazing career … it all comes to an end for all of us. He was somebody we all grew up watching. Seeing him go from the Afro to changing to another number to all that stuff … 81 points, he just had a very good career.
“He paved the way for so many players coming out of high school, and his work ethic, everything that he stands for on the court has been great. For, what, 20 years? That’s amazing, to play this game for a long time. I know it’ll probably be tough because he loves this game so much, but all of us have to face that reality one day, and I just wish him well.”
One of Bryant’s successors as the league’s top shooting guard, Howard’s teammate James Harden, spoke of how he grew up dreaming about being like Kobe.
“A legend,” Harden said in describing Bryant’s game. “I grew up watching him. He was my ‘MJ.’ Just for him to be done, for his last go-round, it’s sad. That’s the end of a dynasty. He had a really good run, but it comes to an end. He’s a monster. He’s a beast.
“He’s a warrior, man. He’s a competitor. I don’t think there will ever be another guy like him. The way he did it, he willed his teammates to victories, championships, things like that. It was a great story.”
Some other players had similarly complimentary things to say via Instagram.
J.R. Smith: “One of the most under appreciated players to ever play is saying goodbye to the game he gave his all! Everyone has their own opinion on him, his game, how many shots he shoots, he’s the reason why Shaq left or whatever! He always remained true to the game! Extra shots✔️ Weight room ✔️ treatment for his body✔️watching film✔️ true student of the game! Goes without saying 1 of the GREATEST TO EVER DO IT! #ThankYouKobe”
Gerald Henderson: “I’ll let the cat out of the bag finally….Kobe was my favorite player growing up….. Shocker? lol Kids, make sure you are your favorite player first but it’s always good to have someone else to look up to #RESPECT #SALUTE #KOBE”
Will Barton: “The only basketball player I ever idolized, wanted to be like, & play like. Thanks for everything you taught me. How to be a champion, how to overcome adversity, how to dedicate ya self to your passion. Watching ya highlights got me through high school, college, & even gets me motivated to this day. The things you went through in your personal life showing you are still human when I thought you were a supreme being & came out stronger helped me realize you don’t have to be perfect to accomplish ya dreams & you can bounce back from anything if you are determined. Ya determination & will is second to none & I’ll always admire that about you. I’ll never forget our conversation & cherish it forever …..Thanks for everything to the greatest basketball player of all time Kobe Bryant. The game will never be the same.”