Dear Kobe Bryant,
Without you, I am not a basketball fan.
It’s weird to think of the impact one person who you’ve never met can have on you, but I’ve been truly impacted by you.
This type of article will be a dime-a-dozen over the coming days, weeks and months. For me, this is as much therapeutic for myself as it is anything else.
Growing up in Indiana, basketball surrounded me. At a young age, I remember playing in rec leagues at my local Boys & Girls Club.
Yet somehow, my parents were not sports fans. The closest my father came to a vested interest in sports was NASCAR. My mother, despite playing high school basketball, was not a fan of any professional sport. To this day, they only remain casual fans of sports.
For most of my early years, I was not an NBA fan. I missed the days of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing in the mid-90s. It wasn’t until seeing a Lakers flag hanging in my uncle’s garage that I even became remotely interested in the NBA.
At the time, the Lakers had just signed Shaq and drafted you. My nickname in basketball, given to me due to my size, was Baby Shaq. Those two roads intersected once seeing that Lakers flag and having my uncle teach me about the Lakers.
My NBA fandom quite literally mirrored your career. There has not been an NBA in my life that hasn’t had you in it.
I remember being able to trash talk my friends in third grade when the you beat the Pacers in the NBA Finals.
I remember proudly wearing number 8 throughout my (short) basketball career because of you.
I remember sitting in anguish as your “super team” fell to the Pistons in 2004.
I remember brashly walking into high school the day after you dropped 81 points, sporting your jersey.
I remember the embarrassment felt walking into summer school the day after you lost the 2008 Finals.
I remember the joy that came along with each buzzer beater of yours in the 2009-10 season as a freshman in college.
I remember the exact words I told my roommate, also a fan of yours, the night you tore your Achilles.
“Kobe got hurt tonight. It’s really bad.”
As I grew and changed, both as a person and as a sports fan, you were there. Many life moments parallel with Laker moments. Watching the Lakers win Game 7 over Boston with my cousin. Watching you bury late three after late three against the Raptors with my roommates while we lost our minds over and over.
I knew this moment would come in the back of my mind.
As I watched you this season, my mentality changed. No longer was I excited to watch you take the floor. No longer was there a buzz surrounding games with the thought of you being able to drop 40 at any moment.
Instead I rolled my eyes at your postgame quotes, hopelessly wishing that your mindset would change despite knowing that the your stubbornness was one of the reasons I loved you.
On Saturday night while watching the Lakers take on the Blazers, I tweeted that I was annoyed with this version of you. Less than 24 hours later, I’m left stunned and speechless trying to put my feelings into words.
I’m not ready for an NBA without you.
Thank you for five titles. Thank you for big shots. Thank you for your cockiness. Thank you for being unbelievable. Thank you for rewriting history books. Thank you for MVP performances. Thank you for so many “did he just do that” moments. Thank you for making me an NBA fan.
Thank you for everything.