This story is personal.
I was a Shaq fan. My earliest NBA memory was Shaq’s Magic versus MJ’s Bulls. When Shaq moved from Orlando to LA, I “moved” too. It was great. I also liked the Lakers. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy… and the amazing franchise. And then there was Kobe Bryant.
The young Kobe Bryant was something. You gotta give him credit for his heart. His courage. A brave young man. But man, I hated him. There were times he was throwing airballs. There were times he wasn’t passing and making selfish decisions. I loved Eddie Jones. I loved Nick Van Exel. But Kobe wasn’t passing, he had to drive and dunk it on someone else because he had to be a legend NOW!
Jones, Van Exel, Campbell were traded, that was a bit sad. The Lakers had a rebuild. Finally they went to the finals and won three championships. Kobe was a lot better a player now. He was dunking on everyone’s head. He was tough. His energy went through the roof. Though I believed, Shaq was the key, you can not deny Kobe of his contribution—he killed it when Shaq was out. The young Kobe was ripe and dunked it hard when the need rose. And they won it in fashion, 3 shiny rings.
And then there were some issues and Shaq left for Miami. I was broken, I hated that LA “sided” with Kobe, Shaq had to leave. But I remained a Laker fan. Though I cheered Shaq for his success with DWade, I remained a Laker fan not cheering for Kobe.
Years came by, frustrations, losses and all, I started drifting away from NBA. I had almost forgotten my love for basketball, and focused on being an artist. Soon after, the rise of Kobe Bryant once again. He was still dunking on people. He’s back. He never lost his heart. I just couldn’t deny him. He was bleeding himself dry to win for my Lakers. His Lakers.
Kobe lost to the Celtics—and as a Laker, losing to Celtics is crazy big deal. Be it the finals or a regular season game, no, you don’t fall to the Celtics! But he did. Yet, this guy didn’t stop. He took Paul Pierce’s image as fuel to his inner fire.
Next year he was dunking again. His jumpers are sharper. You can see how he trained his body to finally cope up with his spirit. Kobe was taking his throne without Shaq. And he did! He won the finals and dunked on anyone in front of him—hi, Dwight. The next year he faced the Celtics again and got back what he lost. What a time to be a Laker fan!
Calmer time followed. Lebron James’s rise to power took the spotlight. Injuries followed. Kobe wasn’t the young number 8 anymore. He was the number 24 with torn achilles tendon. He made the free throws and walked away. The next seasons, he returned. He was different. He was throwing airballs again and the media had a circus. Criticized. To some he was disrespected. Kevin Durant didn’t like how the media treated him. Then KB announced his retirement—his last season—he said had nothing left to give.
His last season was a tour. But his LAST GAME against the rival Utah Jazz… man… was the best last game a legendary baller, or any athlete, could ever have—60 points and a W—in a jaw-dropping fashion. He left the court with a big smile. His body could have gotten older, but his spirit was as young as that rookie who dunked on people no matter what.
Until one morning, I woke up with the saddest news of the decade.
When Kobe died, I couldn’t take it. All of us, couldn’t believe it. But that’s just life, and maybe, that’s just what death is too. But Kobe Bryant, he and his winning shots, he and his devastating dunks, it would echo for the whole time he represented. He just wouldn’t let anyone outshine him on his watch. He just wouldn’t let anyone hold him down for long. His Mamba Mentality created a generation of winners. His life was truly a legendary story.