On Wednesday, Kobe Bryant will play the last NBA game of his 20-year career -- which includes five championships, 18 consecutive All-Star selections, two scoring titles, and even a Slam Dunk Contest win -- stepping off the court as the third-highest scorer in the history of professional basketball.
In preparation for the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s final game, ET dug through its vault of interviews with Bryant to find the story of the 37-year-old NBA star’s illustrious career, told in his own words.
“It all boils down to basketball,” Bryant told ET’s Kevin Frazier in 2003, after leading his team to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000-02. “You can get caught up in all the hoopla and the hype, but ultimately, it’s playing the game. It’s putting a round ball in the basket.”
“I just try to keep it as simple as that,” he added. “Just try to execute and instill in my teammates the work ethic of a champion. See if we can’t get it done.”
Bryant spent the entirety of his 20-year career with the Lakers, yet another record that the NBA legend holds. The team has some notable high-profile fans, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington, and of course, Mr. Courtside himself, Jack Nicholson, which Bryant says he appreciated throughout his time on the court.
“It’s a lot of fun, because people that come to watch us play -- be it Denzel Washington, Andy Garcia, or Jack [Nicholson] -- we’re big fans of them,” he said in 2004. “We go watch them perform on the big screen, and now they come watch us perform, watch us do what we do best. I take pride in that.”
ET was also with Bryant for off-the-court milestones, as he and wife Vanessa welcomed two daughters, Natalia, born in 2003, and Gianna, born in 2006.
“The kids just keep growing and growing and growing, it’s a trip,” he told Frazier in 2009. “It happens so fast. I’m looking at Natalia, I’m like, where is this 3-month-old baby that I remember? She’s six and she’s so independent already. It’s scary.”
The NBA champ also made time off the court to give back, visiting hospitals, participating in charity events, and even co-founding the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation -- which aims to “improve the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally.”
“It’s a blessing because you have an opportunity to do something like this beyond basketball,” Bryant told Frazier on a visit to a children’s hospital in 2006. “We all have God-given gifts and abilities. To be able to do something like this creates a sense of purpose. It’s more than just playing basketball...it’s kind of using it for a greater good.”