The American Black Mamba has been indigenous to Los Angeles for the past twenty years.  Sadly, scientists are predicting that it will soon be departing. There is no doubt that the “Black Mamba” is one of the last of a dying breed. The Mamba is world famous due to its killer instinct and assassin’s mentality. It attacks with no regard for anything, including its own health. This is known to be to its detriment, but it always comes back with an unrivaled determination and then seems to be stronger than ever. As it enters its purported final year in the city of angels, the world is left wondering how it will rebound from countless setbacks: Will the Mamba exit its usual vicious self, full of fight, or just fade into the shadows, beaten down and broken?

Kobe Bryant, also known as the “Black Mamba”, is returning from another major injury this year.  The torn rotator cuff, which ended Kobe’s last season, came after the knee fracture which ended his one prior season, and the achilles tear which ended his playing time the year before. The man who is widely considered one of the best players of all time has played in just 41 games over the course of the last two seasons. His departure last season was overshadowed by the Lakers awful 2014-15 season and his return was overlooked due to their likely mediocre season this year.

The Los Angeles Lakers, champions of the basketball world five times in the past twenty years, are a non-factor in the Western Conference this season. They have been a non-factor since Dwight Howard departed after a long and conflict ridden year in LA, and truthfully, they didn’t contend that year either. The 2012-13 Lakers had zero chemistry, made the playoffs due to a herculean effort by Kobe down the stretch and immediately faltered once his body gave out.  This was the first sign of father time closing in on Bryant’s career. Some discussed whether or not he was a top five player or whether had lost a step were there, but this was concrete evidence that The Mamba was human. The man who drove the franchise, was beginning to come back down to Earth.

Kobe Bryant is and always has been an elite competitor with a drive and work ethic that is nearly unparalleled.  He may never be Michael Jordan, but mentally, he is the closest thing since. When all is said and done, LeBron James very well may be better on paper than #24, but he doesn’t come close to Kobe between the ears. “Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almosts.” Those words exemplify and illustrate the type of fierceness Bryant brought to the court, every game. The Mamba has worked tirelessly, in three consecutive offseasons, to return from tough injuries. Injuries which would, at this point, make many take a long look at retirement. But much like the greatest closer baseball has ever seen, Mariano Rivera, the basketball legend wants to go out on his own terms.

Kobe has been criticized for being a ball hog, in an era where some great players shy away from taking clutch shots. As he’s aged, he has become more outspoken, at times to the chagrin of the media and of upper management, in an era where the “company man” is cherished. Kobe is the wise veteran, who has been counted out and criticized endlessly. He claims to ignore the outside noise. “Everything negative, pressure, challenges-is all an opportunity for me to rise,” while also using the noise to help fuel his eternally burning fire.

We are a long ways away from Kobe, takeover the game on a whim and score 81 points, Bryant.  This season, if it truly is his last, should be his swan song. The Black Mamba should exit like ‘The Captain,’ Derek Jeter, and likely will.  He’ll be shown all the love and appreciation he deserves, as the one thing he truly wants escapes him. There will be no sixth championship ring for Bryant, as there wasn’t for Jeter, but the best he can hope for is a healthy season with a crystallizing moment, the “I can walk away,” moment. A Hollywood ending is unlikely for the brightest star in Hollywood basketball, no matter how hard he works for it.

Kobe Bean “Black Mamba” Bryant, the man, the myth, the legend, is set to hang up his namesake sneakers at the season’s end. The enigma who captivated the basketball world for two decades will finally bid it adieu. In the words of Lil Wayne, “I call him King Bryant, now let the crown show.” The gold of his crown will always glimmer, but the purple and gold he wears this season will be gilded at best.

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