Kobe Bryant's illustrious NBA career has finally come to an end after a dazzling 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night in front of a raucous and star-studded crowd at STAPLES Center who showed up to pay homage to an all-time great. Although the notion of the "end" has been something that fans have slowly become more accustomed to after Bryant announced his intentions to retire in late November, there have been small, Black Mamba-esque flourishes along the way that gave people hope that maybe Bryant could once again shed his snakeskin during the off-season and come back for one more go-around. But that is not the case. Father Time in undefeated. And if there was anybody with the competitive spirit to pickle the aging process, it would be Bryant. As he said when addressing the crowd, "Mamba out."
It remains to be seen what the second professional phase for Kobe Bryant entails. "I'm a storyteller. I love, love, love storytelling," Bryant has said on numerous occasions.
While storytelling opens up the possibility of expanding his entry in the movie business, further opening up Western influences in China, or perhaps even one again joining Shaquille O'Neal as part of TNT's Inside the NBA, we will just have to wait and see.
If there is one aspect of storytelling that we can probably bank on never seeing Bryant try again, it's the "high fashion" editorial.
It seems quite full-circle in nature that Bryant's last game comes against the same team, the Utah Jazz, who the Lakers were squaring off against in the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals. Despite Bryant having his most effecient game in two months in the Lakers 104-99 win in Game 1 - scoring 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting - the first time he made more than half his shots since a 12-for-21 effort March 31 against Atlanta, many in the media were far more interested in a fashion spread that began being passed and forwarded through press row during the second quarter.
Shot by photographer Ruven Afanador and styled by James Valeri, "White Hot" was created for the now-defunct L.A. Times Magazine. While the general public had become accustomed to the Kobe Bryant who snarled on the court - and whose most prominent sartorial decision in the past was to change numbers from 8 to 24 - the sight of him draped in all-white in duds by Ann Demeulemeester, Kris Van Assche, Damir Doma and Adam Kimmel seemed almost as unnatural as if he were donning Boston Celtics green.
"The concept was about shooting everything in white," said Valeri. "That was Ruven's idea [photographer Ruven Afanador]. But I wanted to do something more modern and less conventional and less cliched. ... It's a more modern silhouette. It's not like, 'Let's just put Kobe in a pair of pants and a shirt or in a suit.' The clothing is all layered."
Valeri went on to describe the atmosphere of the infamous shoot at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, saying, "I went for high fashion, not something too easy or too predictable. I thought it was cool and not too mainstream, but not too gay or Twinkie-boy."
Of all the looks conjured up in the editorial, many will best remember Kobe donning a bowtie and hat in one, and a headscarf in the other. Valeri noted of the former, "I wanted to give a modern approach. I was thinking of [rapper] Tupac [Shakur] where I put a band underneath in the hat to make it look hip-hop, but ... it translates in a surreal look where it creates a strong image," while also adding of the latter, "I thought it'd interesting to have an athlete like the most famous basketball player in the world wear that because it'd be unexpected."
To say that the press and that Bryan's detractors had a field-day with the photos would be an understatement. His home newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, referred to him as a "White-Scrubbed Spa Victim," "Doe-Eyed Bedouin Chief" and "Baby-Faced Capone in Headband & Fedora." TNT's Kenny Smith described the Kobe look as "a combination of Tupac and Liberace."
Deadspin eventually launched a Photoshop contest which saw the photos doctored so that Bryant appeared to be everything from E.T. in Elliot's bike basket, to The Mask.
Following the Lakers 111-103 win in Game 2, even Bryant's own teammates were being forced to comment on the now infamous photoshoot despite another 30-point performance by the star.
"It's a different photo shoot," said Pau Gasol. "If he decided to do it, he probably thinks it was a good fit for him. A good look. I'm not gonna say a whole lot about it."
"It's different," said Lamar Odom. "It's hot. I like it."
"All it is a white shirt, a hat and a bow tie," said Ron Artest.
Even Kobe Bryant was forced to chime in, saying of the whole experience, "They're a little too artsy for me," before adding that he didn't necessarily like the "Babyface kind of look that [the stylist] gave to me."
The Los Angeles Lakers ultimately swept the Utah Jazz en route to defeating the Boston Celtics in seven games to win the NBA championship. Bryant himself would earn his second-straight Finals NBA by averaging 28 points, 8 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Perhaps lost amongst the jokes and circus-quality surrounding the images was the actual interview in the magazine. With Bryant calling it a career now, it seems particularly apropos.
"I feel invincible out there, but it’s a different kind of invincible than when I was younger," Bryant said. "Can I jump over two or three guys like I used to? 'No.' Am I as fast as I used to be? 'No,' but I still have the fundamentals and smarts. That’s what enables me to still be a dominant player. As a kid growing up, I never skipped steps. I always worked on fundamentals because I know athleticism is fleeting."