There are two specific memories of Kobe Bryant that I still remember vividly and probably always will. The first memory was March 8, 2013 when Kobe put up 41 points at home against the Toronto Raptors. Nine of those 41 points came as defended three-pointers in the last two minutes of the game, which cut the Lakers’ deficit and take the game into overtime. Kobe would eventually punctuate the win for Los Angeles with a huge dunk. The other memory came during the 2013 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star game in which Kobe took it upon himself to guard the reigning and soon-to-be-crowned-again MVP LeBron James in the final five minutes of a close star-studded game. The 34-year-old Bryant held one of the greatest players in NBA history to only four points (via free-throws) while getting two blocks and a steal on James.
By the time this is read, Kobe Bryant will have played his last game in the NBA April 13, 2016. He will retire as the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time, one of the greatest basketball players of all time and one of the greatest athletes of our generation. I haven’t been a basketball fan my entire life, but Kobe was why I became interested in the sport. Watching him play was astounding. He played so relentlessly and with such a combination of reckless abandon and skill that it was truly inspiring. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Kobe is one of the biggest worldwide superstar athletes of all time, if not the biggest. This is a guy who can’t go anywhere, from Italy to China to Argentina, without being recognized purely for his skill on the court.
Kobe is arguably the most polarizing athlete of all time, as there really is no grey area with how people feel about him. Either you were inspired by Bryant and you couldn’t find a good reason to root against him, or you hated him because he was destroying your team single-handedly and there was nothing you could do about it. Of course when you are that polarizing and have such a giant spotlight on you, criticism is going to come from everywhere. “He’s selfish, he’s a ball-hog, you can’t play with him,” are common phrases from the critics, and honestly, it might all be true.
Regardless, the guy is the most competitive athlete I have ever seen and does literally anything it takes to win, including holding the ball and alienating teammates. He’s gotten results, too. Five championships, second in career points (over Michael Jordan) and the second highest single scoring performance in NBA history. One can’t deny that Kobe is one of the greatest players to ever step out on the court. Love him or hate him, if you’re a fan of basketball or sports in general, you have to respect Kobe.
I have an emotional connection to Kobe as a fan. He turned me on to my now favorite sport, inspired me in so many aspects of my life and was absolutely a marvel to watch even to the very end. It’s going to be a rough week for me and all other fans of Bryant. I’m going to miss him dearly and probably won’t be able to hold it together when he walks off the floor for the final time. So once and for all, this writer says thank you, Kobe, for giving all that you have to us and to basketball. We love you and we will miss you.