-- Kobe Bryant made it official Sunday night -- the 2015-16 NBA season will be his last. Our panel of Insiders assesses where Kobe ranks among NBA and L.A. legends, analyzes his greatest strengths and weakness and shares favorite memories.
1. Where does Kobe rank historically among the NBA's greatest players?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: The game evolves, and contemporary greats stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. That makes cross-era comparisons more complex than they seem at first.
But let's do it. I'd definitely take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Russell over Bryant. That would place him in the Nos. 8-15 range, along with guys like Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Rick Barry, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone and Julius Erving.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Around 15th, as I explained in Sunday's column on his place in league history.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: I have him in the 6-12 range, and ultimately probably in the top 10. Jordan, Magic, Duncan, Kareem and Bird are untouchable to me. But as one of the all-time best scorers and defenders, Kobe belongs in the top dozen for sure.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: I'll put him at 14th. I'm not a "count the ringzzz" guy because championships rely so much on things beyond a player's control (front office, coaching, teammates, injuries, etc). Bryant is one of the best scorers ever, but he wasn't efficient. Case in point: He has missed 502 more field goal attempts than any other player in NBA history. And counting.
Chad Ford, ESPN Insider: Just outside the top 10. Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Duncan, LeBron, Bird, Magic, Shaq and Oscar Robertson are all ahead of him, in my opinion. He's in the upper echelon of the next group with Hakeem, Jerry West, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Moses Malone and Dirk Nowitzki.
2. Where does Kobe rank all time among the Lakers?
Elhassan: Third. Magic is still the greatest Laker, in my opinion, and Kareem is probably 1a. I give Bryant the nod over Shaquille O'Neal for longevity, and over Jerry West and Elgin Baylor for overall excellence -- an extremely high compliment considering the illustrious careers of those two men.
Pelton: Fourth. I would put him behind Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and West. Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar had higher peaks, as evidenced by multiple MVPs, and West was the better all-around shooting guard, in my view.
Thorpe: Magic was "Showtime," and Kareem made that team far better with his low-post talent, which allowed those teams to excel when opponents took away their fast break. Though both had their share of drama in Tinseltown, neither was perceived as negatively as Kobe. But he still ranks third on my list.
Haberstroh: Second. No Laker has more win shares, games, minutes, points, steals, free throws or turnovers (OK, forget that last one) than the Black Mamba. But, man, I can't put him higher on the list than Magic, who was stripped of his age-31 to age-35 seasons due to HIV.
Ford: Third. Kareem and Magic are ahead of him. Shaq didn't play with the Lakers long enough to be in there. Wilt was beginning the downturn of his career. So it's Kobe or the Logo. Both guys were relentless. Both were lifelong Lakers. Both were legends in their own right. But Kobe's five titles to West's one gives him the slight edge for me.
3. What were Kobe's greatest strengths as a player?
Elhassan: His almost encyclopedic knowledge of the game and players, both past and present. All great players are students of the game to some extent, but Bryant's voracious appetite for film and scouting reports is the stuff of legend. Additionally, his ability to tie the thread from the moves of the greats of yesteryear to modern technique made him unique among his peers.
Pelton: His ability to create a massive number of shots for himself without losing much efficiency in his prime. In 2005-06, when Bryant used a record 38.7 percent of the Lakers' plays, his .559 true shooting percentage was still far better than league average. Only a handful of players in NBA history could have pulled that off.
Thorpe: Pretty simple, really. Elite-level athlete. Elite-level work ethic. Elite-level hoops IQ. Elite-level ball handler. Elite-level scorer, in transition and half-court play. Elite-level technician with his footwork and his ability to use his body and size to seal defenders. Very good shooter at times. Elite-level defender. Incredibly mentally tough. And likely the single top competitor of his generation.
Haberstroh: His ability to beat you one-on-one. This, though the rings are nice, is why he's worshipped. His array of weapons with the ball may be unmatched among players not named Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Most players have a counter to your counter. In his prime, Kobe had about 15 ready to go.
Ford: Relentlessness. Tim Grover, who trained both Jordan and Kobe, wrote a book about this. The instinct to destroy and demoralize opponents (and sometimes teammates) in pursuit of excellence. While Kobe had elite athletic tools and was incredibly skilled, it was that relentlessness that moved him from great to unstoppable.
4. What were Kobe's greatest weaknesses as a player?
Elhassan: The easy answer in his twilight was a lack of trust in others. Bryant held others to the same standard of maniacal work ethic that he held himself, and as such often felt teammates (and some coaches!) had not earned the right to contradict his desire to shoot for self. The reality is, that weakness always existed in him, but he was held at bay by players and coaches who were accomplished enough to, in his mind, get the benefit of the doubt.
Pelton: Setting aside the past three seasons, his 3-point shooting was his greatest weakness. Of the eight players in NBA history with 5,000 or more career 3-point attempts, Bryant (33.1 percent) is the only one to make them at worse than a 34.9-percent clip.
Thorpe: His mental toughness and confidence ran him into trouble as a decision-maker, especially regarding shot selection. He just got too tunnel-visioned too often. And his drive for excellence, combined with his inability to relate to Shaq's lack of same, helped break up what could have been the best era for a team ever (in modern times). It also helped curb the enthusiasm of others to go to L.A., as far as we can tell.
Haberstroh: His borderline unhealthy obsession with beating you one-on-one. Basketball is a team sport, but Bryant often made it feel like he was going to do it his way or no way at all. He never averaged more than six assists in a full season, and it seemed like more of his teammates would go in the foe column rather than friend. Can you say the same about Jordan, Duncan, Magic or LeBron?
Ford: Relentlessness. Kobe's win-at-any-cost attitude helped him win five titles. But it was also self-centered, making it difficult for him to collaborate with less-talented teammates. That same relentlessness turned off teammates, and toward the end of his career, when his athleticism waned, the Lakers struggled to build a team around him that was elite.
5. What's your favorite Kobe memory?
Elhassan: Without a doubt, Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals versus the Indiana Pacers. With O'Neal fouled out, Bryant took over (on a bum ankle, no less), scoring eight of the team's 16 points in overtime to give the Lakers what would prove to be an insurmountable 3-1 series lead.
Pelton: I was fortunate to be in Portland for a 2013 regular-season contest to cover Kobe's last great game. He played the full 48 minutes in a win over the Blazers and scored 47 points -- on my birthday, no less. Two nights later, he ruptured his Achilles, and you know the rest of the story.
Thorpe: Off-court memory: My brother telling me, "We should buy their stock," when Kobe signed with Adidas, then far behind Nike in the sneaker wars. On-court memory: I was teaching Luol Deng how to find chances to post up, and I had him study tape on Kobe when he would run to the post in transition. The first time he did it in a game, Deng called me afterward to say he literally saw himself as Kobe in that moment of time. We think of Kobe's scoring skill, but people miss how smart he is on the court.
Ford: The 1998 All-Star Game. Kobe trying to go toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan. Waving off screens from Karl Malone and other All-Stars as he tried to outplay his idol. I think it foreshadowed both Kobe's rise as the next face of the NBA and his shortcomings as a teammate. If Kobe plays in the All-Star Game again this season, I doubt much would change. I could see him waving off teammates to stick to LeBron one last time.