Into his 20th season, Kobe Bryant penned a letter titled "Dear Basketball" that served to effectively announce that he would not be returning to the NBA or the Los Angeles Lakers after year No. 20. However, Bryant has put together a two-decade long career that has made him stand apart from the crowd.
Bryant spent his youth in Italy, where his father professionally played basketball at the tail-end of his career. However, the Bryant family relocated to Philadelphia, where Bryant attended Lower Marion High School and began to spark interest from universities and professional teams, alike.
The 17-year-old would jump straight from High School to the NBA when the Charlotte Hornets picked Bryant with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft. Shortly after, Bryant would come to the Lakers in a trade that involved Vlade Divac.
Bryant rarely played early in his rookie season, but his acrobatic abilities earned him the honor of the 1997 Slam Dunk champion, and ultimately, the Lakers allowed their young rookie to air-ball them out of the playoffs in Utah.
With Shaquille O'Neal, who had joined the Lakers in the same year as Bryant, and coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers managed to win three titles between 2000 and 2002. The Lakers would also return to the final in 2004, but the Detroit Pistons ended the Lakers' dynasty with O'Neal being traded over that summer.
Without O'Neal and suddenly surrounded by a weak roster, Bryant rattled off a couple scoring titles and also managed to put together one of the greatest scoring performances of all time. Bryant scored 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006 against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center, which stands as the highest scoring performance apart from Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
In 2008, the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, and Bryant led the purple and gold to three straight NBA Finals. 2008 would also mark Bryant's only Most Valuable Player award. After losing to the hated Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in 2009 and managed to earn revenge over the Celtics in 2010. With the win over the Celtics, Bryant collected his fifth NBA title.
The 17-time NBA all-star continued to perform at a high level in the years that followed, but a torn Achilles tendon in April of 2013 would begin a downward spiral for the superstar. Bryant would only appear in six games the following season and fail to last even half a season in the year that followed.
Struggling in his 20th season in the NBA, Bryant announced on Sunday night that year No. 20 would be his final season. Perhaps, the decision to go public at this point in time had to do with the Lakers playing in his hometown of Philadelphia on Tuesday. Now, it's official that Tuesday will be the last time Bryant plays in Philadelphia.