MX23RW : Saturday, January 19 04:54:19

Analysing Kobe Bryant's NBA legacy

Sports Mole takes a look at the legacy left by Kobe Bryant following the announcement that he will retire at the end of the season.

On Sunday evening, Kobe Bryant made the announcement many had been expecting for a while by confirming that he will retire at the end of the current season.

It certainly did not take long for the tributes to begin as current players and NBA legends all queued up to reveal their admiration for the five-time champion. The reaction to his announcement displayed to all just how important Bryant has been to the league since being drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996.

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on while there's a break during the game against against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 24, 2015 in Oakland, California.© Getty Images

In truth, the tributes have only just started. Bryant will embark on a farewell tour for the rest of the season as he visits cities as an NBA player for the last time, before finally saying goodbye to the league when the Lakers host the Utah Jazz on April 13.

Will he be remembered for his performances this season? No, and nor should anyone be looking back on his final few injury-ravaged years as a member of a Lakers side a million miles away from challenging for titles, or even a spot in the playoffs. Bryant will go down as one of the true greats of the game, and rarely do players have as much of an impact on a sport as the 37-year-old.

Bryant has made no secret of his admiration for hero Michael Jordan, and it is easy to see the similarities between the players. Arguably the two greatest shooting guards to have played the game, Bryant modelled his game on an idol and few could have predicted that he would go on to reach the heights he has done in the NBA.

It would be easy to only compare him to Jordan. It would be far too simple to talk about how Bryant fell short of Jordan's tally of six rings, and why he may not ever be as universally popular as the Chicago Bulls icon. Bryant grew out of his hero's shadow many years ago and he has created a legacy which will continue to impact on the league for the foreseeable future.

One look around the NBA will make it clear just how influential the guard has been since arriving in the professional ranks. Bryant's style and approach can be seen in so many of the dominant players in today's game. Russell Westbrook's explosiveness evokes memories of the way Bryant performed during the three-peat between 2000 and 2002. The intensity of LeBron James on and off the court will always see him compared to the Lakers legend. Whether it is Dwyane Wade's style in the post, or James Harden's displays of aggression to get to the rim, Bryant can be brought up in conversation on nights when he is not even in action.

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates victory following Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena on June 14, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. The Lakers won the National Basketball Association championships defeating Orlando 9© Getty Images

All of those players would credit Bryant for playing a role in their development, and many more will come through the ranks looking to his style on and off the court. His intensity has endeared himself to anyone who has cared to watch the NBA over the past 20 seasons.

Few will ever match his aggressiveness, or ever boast such a single-minded approach to the game. His feud with Shaquille O'Neal will be retold for generations to come. As stars of the sport come out to pay tribute, it will never be too difficult to find another player who struggled to coexist with Bryant. It is these imperfections which have allowed him to become the legend he is in his final season. These personality traits have caused many fans to hate him over the years, but they are the reasons he has climbed to the top of the NBA. Whether he is liked or not, few have demanded as much respect as Bryant.

When looking back on his career, it will be the rings, the All-Star votes and performances such as his 81-point tally against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 that stand out, but his influence will not stop when he walks away from the game in a few months.

Few can claim to have had such an impact on a sport. Jordan certainly did in his prime. The likes of Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Sachin Tendulkar and Tiger Woods have all changed their respective sports for the better. Bryant could not have asked for much more in a 20-year career, but he will continue to be visible on the court through the modern greats and the stars of the future.

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Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on December 20, 2014
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