By: Opinionated MJ
It began for me as a Detroit Pistons fan but a lover of Michael Jordan. I didn’t cling much to Grant Hill, I didn’t cling to Penny Hardaway, and I didn’t come to terms with choosing Iverson, Carter, or McGrady as my next most favorite player. You were my choice. Since I seen you play in high school. Highlight reels about some teenager who would eventually decide that the NBA was his next step, I became a fan of yours, through thick and thin.
I stayed glued to my TV watching Jordan slowly exit and watching you rise at the same time. It’s almost as if it was seamless, the transition from Jordan to you, Kobe. I watched you fail countless times. I endured hearing Iverson fans, Vince Carter fans, and Tracy McGrady fans say that those players were the heir to the throne Jordan left behind. Apparently, he gave you the torch, or as you would say, you have to take it. You did that.
I seen Shaq fail in Orlando with Penny Hardaway, I seen Scottie Pippen travel to the west in hopes of landing another championship playing with other really good players. There was flair missing from all of their games. There you were, fighting for minutes over the likes of Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. I watched you continue to rise. “He’s a ball hog. He’s too selfish. He will never win a ring!” Then I watched as you beat Jordan’s nemesis to land your first ring. I watched you beat the legendary Allen Iverson to win your second ring. I watched as you win 3 straight. Who could say they defeated the mighty Spurs? Who can say they beat the Rasheed Wallace Blazers? Who can say the finally became better than the Karl Malone Jazz? The Gary Payton Sonics? They all had Kobe stoppers right? No, not Chris Childs throwing a punch. Not Reggie Miller throwing you over a table. Not Raja Bell, once you would compete without Shaq. Not Ruben Patterson. Not Doug Christie. Not Bruce Bowen or Shane Battier. Not even Ron Artest.
I think your greatness is wholly forgotten in this era. They didn’t see what I seen. They didn’t go from rooting for “no rings” Kobe to a superstar who measures himself on rings attained. Only Jordan set those kinds of bars for himself. Those expectations. You stayed a Laker. You proved everyone wrong and you excelled, even in times of desperation. I’m sure everyone remembers your huge mistake. That seemed to create a new you. A new purpose and appreciation for basketball that not many have at all. You never took a second on that floor for granted.
I seen you dominate the Phoenix Suns, practically alone. I even gave you a pass that you didn’t deserve when you decided to let the media see what your team could do if you didn’t shoot. I watched you fallout with Phil Jackson and makeup with him in preparation for another run. I watched you elevate the games of so many players around you. You didn’t have to do it like Magic or LeBron. You succeeded the way only Kobe could. You led by example and set yourself up in your own lane. You gave us great strings of performances. You gave us 81. We’ll probably never see it again. It was a perfect storm in the perfect situation. Your team needed it and you provided it with the most focus I’ve seen in a basketball player.
You became an inspiration to giving oneself to something to reach a goal. You gave us a mental blueprint on how to attain excellence without needing to do what people say, in any profession. Maybe it was the triangle. I still seen greatness after it, before it, in the midst of not having it before your injury during Rudy Tomjanovich tenure as coach. I watched you torch Jordan as a Bull and especially a Wizard. I seen countless game winners. The two against Portland. The ones that followed a championship against the Spurs, Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat, against the Toronto Raptors. I could go on.
There’s only one problem. Those are now afterthoughts. Those are memories. I wasn’t done watching you. The game isn’t the same without you. There’s no single player that is worth watching every game for, like it was with you. You could play on a team full of 10 year olds and it would be fun to watch you still find ways to win because you always went with what you had. Same expectations: champion. True dedication and will.
I hope that you enjoy your life now that you’ve given most of your youth to the game. It was just yesterday I seen you with Brandy. Now I’m going to watch as the Lakers organization hangs your jersey in the rafters? There’s pain there. There’s age there. There’s time there that I can’t get back. Time I can’t relive. All I’ll have is moments. I guess this one is second to last. This moment means more than you becoming a hall of famer, because this means that you are truly done. No comebacks. No resurgence. No more blood, sweat, broken bones, and no tears.
The game and the fans of the game itself will always appreciate you. We will never forget exactly what you did, at least not us die-hard fans. I won’t ever let go of the amazement I felt when watching you play. I don’t think I’ll get that again. I don’t think anyone will harness that ability and maintain it throughout a career. I hope you enjoy watching the game the same way I do now, as a fan. I’ll never forget what I felt as an 11 year old watching greatness unfold. Watching you fight for your spot. I’ll also never get to see you suit up in real time again. I guess this is it. They can wear your shoes but it’s still not you, Kobe. So, I guess this is goodbye.