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Well acquainted too i PLEASE NOTE area audience on owner on 21, Kobe bolted past his defender and up for a two-handed slam. Despite almost immediately feeling something wrong with his right shoulder after coming down from the rim, the five-time champion attempted to push ahead with the patented toughness that has been his calling card. He even hit a left-handed turnaround jumper from the baseline, but head athletic trainer Vitti knew that needed to come out of the game. After tearing his right rotator cuff, Kobe tries to continue playing by shooting left-handed. Initially, the seriousness of the injury didn't resonate with himself. I've played with a torn labrum before, said after the game. I'm not too concerned about it. Turns out, the pain his shoulder that had persisted since 2001 finally reached its apex. Days later, would learn the news. Like the Achilles tear and fractured kneecap before it, a torn rotator cuff had ended his prematurely for the third straight year. Even the Lakers' iron-willed leader allowed a moment of disbelief when his doctor delivered the verdict. I was like, Christ, I 't know if I can do another nine months said on 10. This is crazy. on Aug. 22, when 's shoulder finally permitted the franchise's leading scorer to shoot once again, he documented the moment by sharing a photo of himself the gym with his five million-plus Instagram followers. The Lakers' faithful rejoiced. The Black Mamba was back. But, after playing only 41 the past two years combined, wondered for how had already publicly considered yet not committed to the idea of retiring at the end of the 2015 and the vision of him ending his career a cast or on crutches was a legitimate fear among fans. when training camp opened a month later, everyone's eyes locked on him. But managed to escape detection on day one Honolulu fittingly the setting for his first and last camps waking up at 6 a.m. for a pre-practice workout before showing up to the arena hour early. That's where the tough fourth-quarter, overtime buckets that he makes come from, second-overall pick D' said. He's the first one here. He might be fooling us all with the sling on his shoulder. But ice and slings would become a constant fixture on 's body over the next eight months. The aches of the past 19 seasons had at last caught up with him. played the majority of the Lakers' preseason slate, yet there was little time to prepare his body for the next 82 Tip-off was finally at hand. Year 20 was ready to begin. ans pouring into Staples Center on Nov. 29 had already heard the news. But any doubt or that it wasn't true vanished when they opened the black envelope left on their seats. Inside each was a poem written by Kobe to the fans, much like the letter he penned to basketball itself, which crashed The Players' Tribune website due to avalanche of web traffic. The twin poems relayed the same message: After two decades of ascending to global stardom, would be retiring at the end of the Titled Dear Basketball, put it his own words: This is all I have left to give. heart can take the pounding mind can handle the grind But body knows it's time to say goodbye. They got me. I wasn't expecting that type of reaction and ovation. It was emotional for me, and I deeply appreciate beyond belief. Kobe With the 18 letters waiting for every fan the arena, began a cycle of giving and receiving for Appropriately, 's -called farewell tour began his hometown of Philadelphia, where the pride of local Lower Merion High School had been viciously booed 14 years earlier while winning his first All- Game MVP. The 76ers whom helped the Lakers defeat the 2001 Finals started the festivities off with one of his video tributes, beginning the style of his own poetry with the words Dear Kobe. They got me, said postgame on Dec. 1. I wasn't expecting that type of reaction and ovation. It was emotional for me, and I deeply appreciate beyond belief. From there, received a bit of everything from each team. Some were expansive, like the Utah Jazz who gave him outdoors-themed plethora that included a decade pass to the all of the country's National Parks and a pair of custom skis. Others dabbled creativity, such as the Hawks collaborating with Zoo Atlanta to change the name of its actual black mamba snake to Kobe. Even the hated Boston Celtics offered a token of respect for the whom they faced the 2008 and 2010 Finals, presenting with a piece of their famed parquet floor like they had done for another iconic Laker, -Jabbar, 27 years earlier. 's presence warranted extended pregame introduction just about every city, but the Chicago Bulls took it a step further when Pau Gasol whom calls his brother appeared on the jumbo screen on Feb. 21.