On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game. Bryant's career could be categorized as two full revolutions: His first three titles alongside Shaquille O'Neal and his second set of titles alongside Pau Gasol.
Through it all, Bryant's style of play never changed. He wanted the ball. Getting the ball, however, is not a simple task in the NBA.
"Don't let him touch the ball—that's the main thing," 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, longtime opponent and teammate Metta World Peace explained how he would approach guarding Bryant. "The one thing about him is that he works to get open. He wants the ball. So when you deny him, he was in shape enough to work to get the ball. A lot of players want to stand."
World Peace added with a passionate tone, "He worked for position."
In his final game on Wednesday, Bryant may not score 50 points, but his work to get the ball from the opening tip until his final curtain call should be admired. One last time, Bryant with fight, gesture, and struggle to receive the ball. So, Bryant shooting shot after shot in his finale may not seem special if the shots don't fall, but the true beauty in Bryant's process is in his work to create those shots well before he even catches the ball.
More than shooting, scoring or passing, Bryant's career is defined by his desire for the ball and the work he puts in to get the ball. He wants the ball. He plays with hunger.
"I remember one time he got so hungry, he was drooling," World Peace interrupted his train of thought. "He was hungry. Then, he started drooling from the mouth. It was crazy, like a lion."
World Peace recalls a play where Bryant scored after getting fouled, and the Queens-native roars audibly to recreate Bryant's passion in the moment.
"It was a regular season game," World Peace adds. "It wasn't even the playoffs."
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Wednesday will be Bryant's final regular season game. It won't be even be the playoffs. And when the final buzzer sounds on Wednesday, this special hunger will retire from the game for good. When reflecting on his career, any time Bryant stepped onto an NBA court, always, he wanted the ball.