What does Kobe Bryant mean to me?
That’s a question that I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about. It’s something that can’t be explained in a quick sentence or one word.
Kobe Bryant, to me, is everything the game of basketball should be about. Winning, competitiveness, the will to keep going even when your body tells you it cannot. Having the drive to be on top of the basketball world. Being able to murder guys on live television. (See Howard, Dwight; Nash, Steve; Okafor, Emeka)
To get back up when you fail, and to keep getting up when you fail again. Kobe once said: “If you’re afraid to fail, you’re probably going to fail.” That is the embodiment of Kobe. That’s the foundation of every shot with the clock winding down. Every loss stings (or at least stung earlier in his career) more than the last. But that drove Kobe to be better. To prevent the pain of losing from coming into his life for at least one more day.
He was the beginning of my love for basketball. Kobe has been a Laker for longer than I have been alive. He’s all I’ve ever known when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers. I would sit in front of my TV with KCAL 9 on it; mimicking every underbite, every fist pump, every scowl. The collar of my shirt would be in my mouth the moment Kobe bit the top of his purple and gold jersey. My obsessiveness stemmed from all the shots that went in when they were previously thought of as impossible. Kobe is the reason I talk sh*t to my friends when we’re playing 2K or pickup.
I’ve defended him more times than I can remember, whether it was right to or me just sticking up for my hero. I was willing to go to bat for him because of all the happiness he’s brought me. Because it was Kobe. That was MY guy. If you were talking bad about him, you were talking bad about me. You didn’t have the right to bash my idol; not in front of me, at least.
Kobe played through countless injuries, all of which would be excruciating to an everyday person like Paul Pierce. He’s part of the reason I wrestled with a torn meniscus for over a month without any doctor’s opinion. Kobe was willing to put his body on the line for his team, so why shouldn’t I be? Kobe taught me that when life gets tough, be tougher than it.
Saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant will be one of the hardest things I’ll have to do. No more waiting the entire offseason just to see Kobe. No more pre-game introductions with the PA announcer introducing him to either the warmest of cheers or the harshest of boos. No more asking myself: “How the hell did that go in?”
This isn’t the Kobe I remember. Not the one that would relentlessly attack a defense and impose his will on them. No, this is not that version of him. However, we can appreciate this version of Kobe. The version that is willing to go through all the hours of prep pre-game and drag his 37-year-old body onto a basketball court to play a game for all of us to watch. This isn’t the high-flying Kobe Bryant, but one who uses what’s left of his legs to slam one home against the Boston Celtics for one last time. Kobe’s last season has served as a time capsule. It has caused us to look back and examine the highs and lows of his career, appreciating every moment of it. Just to watch nowadays and notice all the things that are apparent in each game he participates in. The masterful footwork, the patented turnaround jumper, and MVP chants every time he steps up to the free throw line.
With all of that said, I am at peace with his retirement. Kobe has shown me championships. He’s shown me 81 points in a game. He’s shown me the ability to single-handedly drag underachieving teams into the playoffs. I’ve watched a superhuman play basketball for my favorite team throughout my entire life. I don’t need to see any more. And his body does not need to take any more. It takes a team of people to get him ready for a game. Kobe doesn’t have to do that any longer. He can go home and spend his time watching the Tarantino movies that he so dearly enjoys. Go dominate in celebrity basketball games.
What does this man mean to me? Kobe Bryant is the reason I give 100 percent into everything I do. Kobe Bryant is the reason I don’t ever roll over and give up. Kobe Bryant is the reason I always try to be myself because he was always himself, he didn’t care what people had to say about him. Kobe Bryant helped me become the person I am today.
Thank you, Kobe.