Life man, it’s funny how it works, isn’t it?
Every day we go about our business, taking little things for granted. Our job, our bank accounts, our likes and dislikes, our families and friends.
You never think this could be the last time I see this person. The last time I get to talk to them, last time I get to tell them how I feel about them.
Sadly, it takes losing one to realize and put into perspective the impact they had on you and your life.
Kobe Bryant, to many of us in the basketball community, was many things. Polarizing, a hero, an idol, an icon, a Hall of Famer, one of the absolute best to ever play this beautiful game we all love and share a passion for. He was a staple in this game for the majority of my life. One of the first true superstars that my generation got to see blossom from the beginning to the end.
Who would have thought that we would witness this type of greatness from a 13th overall pick who was traded on draft day for Vlade Divac? I’m sure the GM of the Hornets who pulled the trigger on that deal regretted every second of it as he watched Kobe dominate for the next 20 years.
Jerry West will tell us all, he knew from day 1 that he expected everything that eventually unfolded for Kobe; And you know what, I believe him. I did not know Kobe on a personal level, hell I never even met the man. But what I can tell you as a highly competitive individual, I had the utmost respect for his dedication and love for the game of basketball. He was a borderline maniac in his pursuit of greatness. You hear the stories as a fan of his work ethic from his peers. The respect and admiration in their voices as they talked about what he did, what he meant to the game, and what he meant to them as individuals.
Kobe’s career on the basketball court was simply incredible. From winning the dunk off as a rookie to being the first player in NBA history to be voted a starter for the All-Star game as primarily a bench player. To the airballs against Utah that cost the Lakers a series, to the triumphs of the 3peat with him and Shaq.
The feud he had with Shaq behind the scenes robbed us all of what could have been a dynasty like no other. Young Kobe was reckless, wild, and supremely confident (or arrogant, depending on your viewpoint). He wanted to show the world his worth and his greatness, and he felt the best way to accomplish that was to do it on his own. You can say that he single-handedly destroyed a dynasty. You may be right. But, that moment had to come for him. He had to prove to himself and the world his greatness.
And thus, the Black Mamba was born.
Something was different about him from that moment on. He became such a polarizing figure at this time. His skill and drive were unmatched and unquestioned. We got to see now what Jerry West saw almost a decade earlier when he made that trade.
He began to run rampant through any and all defences that faced him. His back to back scoring titles, one of which putting up a ridiculous 35 points per game. 62 pts in 3 quarters against my Mavericks. That magical 81 pt game he hung on the Raptors was a defining moment for a lot of Kobe fans and basketball fans in his career.
I'll never forget that day.
I was at work and missed the start of the game. I came home and turned it on to find out this guy had 40 with like 5 mins left in the 2nd quarter!!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME.
I’ve never seen anything like that to this day, and probably never will. He had officially arrived as the best in the game, and clearly showed no intentions of being stopped on his quest to prove his greatness. He was obsessed with winning more titles to prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong. Kobe can't do it without Shaq. Shaq carried Kobe to those 3 chips. Shaq won in spite of Kobe. He heard any and all possible negative things that could have been said about him, and he used them to motivate and push himself even harder than he already did.
The Finals loss to the Celtics in '08 was another moment that changed him. You could see it in the presser that night after watching the Celtics hoist the chip. The burning in his soul was felt in his words that night. The dejection. The utter distaste for losing. You could just tell that he was going to get his revenge that day.
In the next 2 seasons, he was a man on a mission, taking down any and all comers who faced him. The Lakers cruised to the chip in 2009 on his back. He was finally a champion again. He was finally the Finals MVP. The scream he let out after that final buzzer was an iconic moment. The tears of joy showed you just how much that Larry O'Brien trophy meant to him. Finally, he could say he won without Shaq, and flip the bird to the critics who threw that in his face all those years. But, he was Kobe Bryant after all, and he wasn’t satisfied with this win. He had his mind and sight set on one team. The one that gave him one of his most excruciating defeats. The Boston Celtics.
He admitted to listening to Dropkick Murphy’s and Journey every day for 2 years after the loss to the Celtics. Who the hell does that? Kobe. Kobe does that.
These songs were played nonstop in Boston during the Finals and the celebrations. He took it so personal he played them religiously until he got a chance to redeem himself. Stuff like that let you know he still had revenge on his mind. That he needed to redeem that loss.
He got his wish in 2010 as the Lakers made it back to the finals to face the same Celtic team that crushed his dream 2 years before. I’ll never forget his post-game presser after winning game 6 to force that epic, legend defining game 7 at home in the biggest rivalry the sport.
Reporter: If someone told you before the season, one game at home for the title, what would your thoughts have been?
KOBE BRYANT: We’ve got to win it.
Reporter: Are you happy with that opportunity?
KOBE BRYANT: No. The opportunity is not something that makes me happy, it’s winning and taking advantage of the opportunity that makes me happy. That buzzer goes off and we’re not victorious, am I thankful for the opportunity? Nope.
As a highly competitive individual, these words resonated with me deeply. I agreed with his sentiment, his win at all costs mentality defined him. You could tell he meant every syllable of that statement. When they took home that championship, it was evident that a burden was lifted off his conscience. The joy, jubilation, happiness and emotion that he displayed that night celebrating, showed that not only was he one of the fiercest competitors in the history of sports period, but revealed his human side a bit as well; More than he ever had to that point in his career.
He has said numerous times that winning that championship was his proudest moment as a player, and it cemented his spot on the Mount Rushmore of not just Laker history, but NBA history. In the years after that, he was unable to reproduce that type of season for his team.
Trades happened, roster changes were made and the window was closed for more chances at a title. That did not stop him from going out and trying to kill the competition night in and night out. Not even a torn Achilles could stop him. This maniac injured it in a game, got up and proceeded to nail his free throws and WALK OFF THE COURT.
I was amazed at the mental toughness that he had to do that. I’ve experienced that myself, and let me tell u that was the most physical pain I have ever felt in my life. I could not even put an ounce of weight on my foot to walk out of the gym, and this guy — this Kobe Bryant guy shook it off like he just had a slight tweak or something. Just flat out incredible and a defining moment for his “Mamba Mentality”.
After that, we all could sense the end was coming soon. All the dunks, fadeaways, defining moments, clutch plays and game-winners we had witnessed from him were starting to resurface. He announced his retirement would come at the end of the 2015/2016 season, and he was celebrated for that entire season by the basketball world.
And then, in what can only be described as true poetry in motion, he gave us that incredible farewell performance against Utah. 60 points in his final game, nailing the go-ahead and game-clinching buckets in front of his home crowd filled with fans from 8 yr olds to people like Snoop Dogg, Jay Z and countless other greats in their craft. All there to watch one of the greatests give his curtain call. It was bittersweet, and glorious at the same time. As basketball fans, we couldn’t have asked for a better ending to his legendary career, and that moment will live in basketball lore forever.
His post-playing career saw Kobe begin to venture into new passions. The arts, media, his family life. Kobe had become humanized. He was no longer the most polarizing athlete in North America, but just a regular guy who was passionate about his endeavours and his family. He began to share his love of the game with his daughter Gianna, or “Gigi" as fans and he called her. He opened the Mamba Training Academy, not just to help her and her peers out, but to give back to the game at all levels.
He mentored, tutored and shared his wisdom, knowledge and passion for the game with his peers and new faces across all sport, not just basketball. Pros sought him out to pick his brain, and unlike most greats, he obliged. He wanted to make as many people as great as possible. His media career got a great boost when he won an Oscar. Take that in.
An athlete, with his first venture into the entertainment industry.
WON. AN. OSCAR.
Think of the entertainment legends and icons who have never done that, and there’s our Kobe hoisting one with that big, vibrant smile. He was simply a man who wanted to be great at any and everything he could possibly do.
Now, I don’t know where u were Sunday, January 26th at around 2:30 pm EST. I don’t know if you were at home, the mall, an outing with the family or a significant other. But I can tell you myself, that I was home in my room. I had just finished my Sunday tradition with my 2nd born son Jamie. He plays in 2 basketball programs on Sundays, one of which I run at Galaxy Training For Athletes. My son is just like me, fiercely competitive, and has a desire to be the best he can be when he plays.
I’ve noticed it since day 1. Anyways, by 2:30 we had come back to my place, and he had been picked up by his grandmother and brought home. Then, the news came through in 2 of my group chats simultaneously.
I was in shock. Disbelief. Denial.
You name it, I had that emotion running through me. Frantically I was checking any and all news outlets I could find for confirmation. And then it came through. Just like that, one of our heroes was gone. Then shortly after, the absolutely heartbreaking news that his oldest daughter and some of her teammates were gone as well. To top it off, they were on their way to her game. The same exact thing I just took for granted with my son, going to the gym and coming home safely, claimed 9 lives.
As a parent, this literally scared the shit out of me and tore me up inside. Something so small as coming home from the gym or going to the gym with your child. You do it a million times if your child is an athlete, and one of the greatest athletes in history died doing the same thing we all have done without parents and children. I broke down when I found out Gigi was involved. It’s such an unspeakable tragedy, and despite never knowing this man or meeting him. I was in mourning like he was a friend.
We all grew up watching him, studying him, mimicking his moves, yelling his name as we threw up a fadeaway. He touched all our lives not just as an athlete, but as a role model for perseverance, dedication, work ethic, preparation, motivation, and never giving up no matter the situation you are facing.
I want to say thank you, Kobe.
Thank you for being you.
Thank you for the countless memories on the court, and the life lessons off of it.
You will forever live through all of your fans and the athletes you touched. Your legacy will never be forgotten and will live forever amongst the greatest athletes of any and all times. You will be missed by all, but especially your family, who we all send our condolences too in this tragic time.
I know you're up there right now, in the gym getting up shots. Waiting for any and all comers to come to test your skill.
And I don’t doubt for a second, that you're going to kick all their asses.
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