Happy Bday, Kobe

Jen and I inherited a cat. Her name is Oreo and she originally was Jen’s mom’s, then was adopted by Jen’s sister, and came to us when her sister got a dog and didn’t have room for a cat. I’m more of a dog person, but I absolutely adore this little thing. Issue is: she’s about 20 years old – a miraculous feat to be honest, given how she’s moved around and having spent so much time with me annoying her on purpose.

We know Oreo doesn’t have too much longer. She’s aged gracefully, but we’re definitely noticing how she’s slowing down. I didn’t grow up in a house with pets, so when Oreo finally goes to that barn most parents say pets go to live in, I’ll probably be an effing wreck. I mean, Jen’s family dog died last year and I may or may not have stayed up way too late staring at a picture of Josie with all the world’s dust somehow making its way to my living room. (Important note: Josie remains the greatest dog ever. When Oreo passes and Jen and I get our first dog, it’ll have HUGE paws to fill.)

Jo Jo_1
I mean, look at this cutie. (And I mean Josie. Duh)

Anyway, the reason I’m bringing this up is this is the first pet I’ve had to come to grips with mortality as a conscious issue. When Jen and I go on weekend trips, the possibility of coming home to Oreo lying there is a little too real. When I pick her up (she hates this) I enjoy the moment just a little more than usual because I know there is a limit to how often I’ll be able to do so. When she plays with the string like how she used to years ago, our laughter is joined by a slight sigh, because we aren’t sure if this is the last time we might see this. When we pet her and she gets a little too excited and bites my finger, it’s fine. She’s old.

Today is Kobe Bryant’s 37th birthday and the reason for all that sappiness is this is probably the last season we’ll ever to get to enjoy this guy. His retirement feels way too much like losing the first family pet where you understand what’s going on as said pet ages. It’s a dark thought, sure, and it’s probably a stretch as Kobe isn’t actually dying, but for this blogger who grew up alongside Kobe, it fits.

When I say I grew up with Kobe, I’m not exaggerating. I compared the Lakers to Harry Potter characters this week and Harrison, who edited the pieces, made a pretty spot on comment as he published them: “You really get the sense as you read that you loved those books,” he said. A major part of my deep-rooted love for that series was how I aged at a similar rate as Harry. The books came out roughly once a year or so, and Harry aged a year in between each of them.

I feel the same way about Kobe. He’s obviously a few years older than I, but he entered the league right about the time I really started paying closer attention to the Lakers than the average fan. So, as he matured and his game developed, so did my analysis of basketball. Now, it’s critical to point out he took his game to levels my blogging will never come close to, but the point remains: just as with I did so with Harry, Kobe Bryant and I grew up together.

Another part of the equation here is how much Laker fans tend to have to defend Kobe against at times unfair criticism. It comes with the territory as a Laker fan. There’s enough salt in the Twitter universe for Kobe and the rest of the organization to make Paula Deen blush. An “us against the world” mentality grows rather naturally as this defense takes place and brings the fan closer to the player they stick their neck out for.

Am I objective? Of course not. No one is. Objectivity is inherently impossible because of the biases we formulate subconsciously. We can’t control it, so I’ve learned to accept it – both as I analyze and as I read/listen to others. With Kobe being so polarizing, I’ve come to understand it’s similarly impossible not to have a stance on his career. From my perspective, he belongs among the absolute greatest ever. His greatness should be its own defense to the “h8rz”, but it isn’t, and that that’s perfectly fine.

I’ve read all kinds of “this is how I’ll remember Kobe” articles today. They were all great. Kobe should be remembered fondly, and that he’ll be commemorated for such individually personal reasons is one of the greatest compliments he’ll ever receive. For me, I guess I’ll remember Kobe for his unrelenting unwillingness to back down and force-of-nature work ethic that allowed him to succeed at such incredible levels, both individually and as a member of a team.

Side note: I always hear how guys just play the right way, and Kobe’s isolation-heavy game isn’t it. Well, if that’s really the case, shouldn’t Steve Nash or some other white guy we say that about have all those championships while Kobe or Michael Jordan look on from the crippled heights statistics alone can take a player? That’s a cheap shot, obviously, but whatever, I’m emotional at the moment and I’ll lash out at critics if I want to.

Back to Oreo, though. Those moments I mentioned where the enjoyment is simultaneously heightened and tainted will take place as the season goes on as a fan, too. Just like how funny it is how bananas my cat goes anytime I eat string cheese, we’ll watch each marvel of basketball skill Kobe gives us just a little more, as there’s a very real chance we won’t ever see it again after this season. If Kobe hits a game-winner on a random Thursday night in November, I’ll take it in just a little differently because that might be the last one I’ll ever see.

In a weird way, I’m kinda glad to know the end is near. It’ll probably make this season all the more enjoyable as I won’t parse Kobe’s inefficiencies and rather enjoy the moments I still can. When Oreo sleeps on a black shirt I accidentally left lying around, turning it into a fur coat, I don’t get upset. I smile knowing she knows Daddy’s scent and wants to sleep on it.

When the season does ultimately end, and Kobe hangs up those signature Nikes, I won’t lie, whichever room I’m in will probably get a little dusty. “The end’s” finality and complete disregard for how it affects us is unequaled. So, let’s get ready for this season and celebrate Kobe’s birthday with that in mind.


Author: Anthony F. Irwin

The old guy.

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