Kobe Bryant was drafted in 1996. I was 13 years old, and even I had realized that my fandom of Michael Jordan would one day come to an end. Kobe came on the scene quickly, albeit not instantly – to take the torch. He witnessed the skeptical of what the greatest basketball player should look and feel like and he mimicked the shit out of it, pretty much to the T. From some, this drew criticism. And why wouldn’t it, as almost anything would in this day and age 🙄 . To me, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But this isn’t what this article is about. This isn’t about Kobe as a player… and saying that he had many flaws is quite an understatement.
Kobe Bean Bryant
I immediately gravitated towards Kobe as a fan as he had a magnetic quality to him. Kobe had style, Kobe was cool. He took Brandy to the prom. He was the NBA’s golden boy and came equipped with a choir boy image that was as squeaky clean as a brand new pair of Adidas Kobe shoes. Soon after being drafted – and the notorious double-air-ball sequence against Utah becoming a thing – Kobe’s game began to take shape. The relativity and comparisons to MJ were more clear and then became undeniable. I was obsessed. He was the heir to the throne. I had the Adidas Kobe Sneakers and was lucky enough to have won a custom, hand-made Lakers wristband at basketball camp. Glued onto it was his then #8 in the legendary Lakers font. I loved this thing. I wore it religiously, with an addictive nature. I even wore it when I wasn’t playing. I could be just hangin out around the house and I’d rock the wristband either on my arm or on my leg. Kobe was my guy.
Soon came the Colorado allegations, which was a huge let down for me as a young fan. Next, Kobe had had it with his now ruined choir boy image and began to show another side of himself when in front of the media (as opposed to the extended mimicry of his idol MJ which he regularly exposed). Then came his feud with Shaq, and the uncalled for comments that brought up Shaquille’s alleged extramarital affairs. He was probably 23 at the time, maybe 25. What difference does it make really… he was young (The rape allegations came at 24 so the comments toward Shaq must have been between the ages of 24-26 but don’t take me to the bank on that, this isn’t espn). While I felt let down by his actions as a kid, as I grew older I learned about all of the mistakes I would make myself, just being a regular kid – let alone someone as under the microscope as an NBA Phenom and megastar. The straw that broke me was the 2010 game 7 in Phoenix. For Kobe Bryant, “this” loss was where reputations were tarnished. This is mentioned by Dave Mcmenemin in further detail in this ESPN column.
At this point my relationship with Kobe as a player was over. I was disgusted and thought he didn’t even deserve to be compared to my ultimate hero in Michael. From then on out, I didn’t care for Kobe Bryant as a basketball player, and to be honest, even rooted against him at times.
The Passing of a Living Legend
So why does this sting so much? Why have I shed tears over a handful of times over a person I didn’t even know, let alone even root for, for half his playing career. Well… aside from the fact that as I’ve gotten older I’ve began to feel more deeply in sometimes inexplicable ways – I can tell you why…
What I saw in Kobe was maturation. What I saw in Kobe is the work ethic and tenacity of working as if he was the 15th man on the roster when he was in fact, the best player in the league – NO MATTER WHAT HE WAS WORKING ON. Kobe didn’t take his talent for granted. He maxed it out, because he was aware of the duty that came along with it. My brother and I constantly talk and argue all things NBA as we reside more on the FANATICAL side of the spectrum when it comes to NBA fans. We constantly wonder (more discuss than wonder) why certain players develop, certain players plateau and others plummet to complete and utter failure and are eventually labeled busts. Kobe is the perfect example of why certain players DO pan out.
Through his faults and missteps, Kobe grew… and like most humans, continued to misstep some more. I remember scoffing at the fact that he took the max in his final NBA deal and basically drove the Laker franchise to doom. I continued to unfavorably judge Kobe.. And then somehow, towards the end of his career, Kobe began to win me back over. In the 2013 season, Bryant put a mediocre Laker franchise on his back and played OUT OF HIS MIND. Later that season, in game 80, (vs my beloved Golden State Warriors ironically enough) suffered a non-contact injury and fell to the ground. He got up, sank two free throws and was barely able to limp off the court. The diagnosis? A torn Achilles tendon. I was sick to my stomach. They interviewed Kobe at his locker after the game and it was apparent he had just finished shedding his tears. It was tough to watch one of the most mentally strong figures in sports HISTORY struggling with what might be the end. We all wanted to see Kobe continue his magical run in the playoffs, to see where his experience, veteran savvyness and shear & utter will would be able to get him this time around. Now, with the traumatic injury coming during the latter stages of his career, fans weren’t even sure if we’d ever get to see him play again. Kobe persevered, overcame the Achilles injury like we all knew he could and came back to play a few more seasons. Then came his final game at the Staples Center which he famously dropped 60 in and wrapped a bow around a perfectly imperfect NBA playing career. But again, this isn’t what this article is about.
What I think stings most the death of Kobe and his daughter Giana is the fact that a family has been torn apart. I received a text from a friend of mine simply saying “Kobe” and my response was “oh fuck off” because I thought they were referring to the fact that Lebron James had just surpassed him in career points. I then checked my Instagram and quickly turned my TV on to check the news. It was 3:24 PM.
What broke my heart most was how Kobe embraced fatherhood. A man who almost lost his wife due to infidelities at the age of 24 had more than mended his marriage. He had raised 3 girls and 7 months ago came a 4th. It’s only natural to wonder how athletes handle not having a boy. There’s always that question that hovers above them due to the excitement of having a son to continue their athletic lineage. I think it does for all of us, not even athletes. I know me for one would be way more confident in my potential as a father if having a boy rather than a girl. In fact, to be honest, I’d be terrified simply because I wouldn’t how to apply my experiences to a daughter as opposed to a son. Kobe took fatherhood in stride. He didn’t just say he loved his children, he showed it. His participation in his daugther Gigi’s budding basketball career was more in the public eye than anything he did with the elder Natalia. There’s even this clip from Jimmy Kimmell.
— Jimmy Kimmel Live (@JimmyKimmelLive) November 5, 2018
Kobe & Fatherhood
His attitude towards being a dad wasn’t forced, his comments didn’t ask for any sort of credit for his actions. Kobe didn’t care to be painted in a certain light. I never expected him to want that as Kobe will be remembered as a man who would rather be feared than liked. His approach to fatherhood oozed authenticity.
Next you see the way he affected and influenced his peers, his seniors and even the younger generations. Then I think of his extended Laker family. Guys like Shaq, Derek Fisher, Rob Palinka (former agent), Jeanie Buss and others. And last but not least, what is left of the Bryant family. Vanessa, now without a 1-of-a-kind father and the loss of a 14 year old daughter. I can’t even imagine the pain. I am literally hurting for them as I am sure we all are.
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Why the death of Kobe stings so damn much
“Now whatta you care?” some might say. What am I even writing for, right? What people don’t understand about the NBA is that it is a community. Basketball is not the most popular sport in America. It doesn’t get the highest ratings and lately, I’ve struggled to even find people who love the game the same way that I do, especially in my local area. When the Warriors are in the finals or on a playoff run, I get so amped up that I can’t fall asleep for hours after the game. That provides a little bit of a problem when some games tip off at 10:45pm EST. All I am left with at game’s end is the TNT crew which consists of Shaq, Chuck, Kenny and Ernie Johnson and whoever else is left up to discuss the prior events (usually my brother and a select few). When you become a fan of the NBA and watch it religiously, you realize these people invite you into their backyards. You get to know the hardships they go through, and when they are going through something, they share it with you – and do the show anyway. Shaq’s son’s heart surgery, Ernie’s battle with cancer. You get close to these guys like you know them. You soak in the relationships they have with each other and the fraternity that is the NBA. A game we all played and at one point or another fell short of our goal either recreationally, or when trying out for a team at whatever level. It’s something you can’t understand unless you are a true fan. And that is why this stings so much. Because you FEEL it. You look forward to the evolved human that post-career Kobe had become and everything he can to bring to society and to the world.
After some very ugly rape allegations when he was 24, Kobe came full circle and positioned himself to be one of the biggest ambassadors to women’s sports… and not just women’s basketball. He was a family man, a role-model, an influencer… an example and embodiment of what work ethic should be no matter what type of talent or situation you’re dealt. Like all of us, he was far from perfect, but unlike all of us, he was wired differently… This is what made him rare. This is also why he was so misunderstood early on in his career.
For children, basketball players and athletes become role models. They are the pinnacle performers of what many of us enjoyed doing most as children, which is playing sports. You watch them, you try to emulate them, you want to be like them. Perhaps there should me more of an emphasis on parents and teachers being role models, but not everyone is given a set of those they can look up to! What Kobe was writing in addition to his already published book on work ethic and basketball is the book on was being a parent. Parenting is tough. It’s not something you can pick up one single source and become great at it. And yes, I get it, Kobe may have had more knowledge and resources to be a great parent than most people, that’s not what I am referring to. I am referring to the fact that the same people who looked up to Kobe as a basketball player can now look to him as a role model in their adult lives, as a parent and with their own children. Let’s face it, not all parents are good people. They don’t all love their children and some of the one’s that do don’t know HOW to love their children simply because they weren’t loved themselves. Kobe’s relationship with Gigi was in the public eye and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Perhaps some Kobe fans could have checked themselves and said, I need to step my parenting game up. Kobe made it cool. Kobe had the platform.
Regardless what you think of Kobe Bryant, it’s undeniable that we need more Kobe on this Earth… and now we have less. RIP to Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and the rest of the families who’s lives were taken in that helicopter crash on January 26th. I wrote this article in an effort to cope with my emotions. I hope it’s helped you cope with yours.