Farewell to the Mamba
I don’t know what compelled me to get into work early this morning and write a few words on Kobe Bryant. Perhaps it was the stories of his legendary Olympic experience, calling trainers at 4am to open the gym. But after reading so many retrospective pieces on his career this week, I felt the need to add mine to the list.
I don’t usually write longform about any subject. (Except for my March Madness e-mails as my co-workers will attest) Twitter is normally my domain. Regular people usually save this format to express complex emotions like love or grief — I do it about retiring basketball players. I think that says more about me than anything.
Kobe has been such a part of my life growing up that as I was reading histories of his career, it would bring up vivid memories of my past. My mom used to say that you start to feel old when people you remember begin to pass away. I guess when your childhood sports stars retire is a certain form of that. Kobe was the man to any kid growing up in 1990s LA and he was my guy.
My first memory of Kobe was hearing stories about a high school kid getting ready to jump to the NBA. It was 1995 but all that impressed me was that he brought R&B singer Brandy to his high school prom! Such swagger! How did he get that done? I was more interested in logistics than anything.
- Did he write her a letter?
- Did he sneak backstage at a concert and ask her personally?
- Was his family close personal friends with hers?
- Will these tactics work on any of the Spice Girls?
These were the days before you slid into a celebrity’s DM so I had no idea how these things work. As a young and naive 8-year-old, I was ignorant to the world of celebrity. The real story didn’t matter. That Kobe guy was cool.
Somehow, Kobe Bryant ended up on the Lakers. (I learned later that Charlotte actually drafted him and traded him for Vlade Divac!?! Which is hilarious 20 years later. Hey Kings’ fans, how do you feel about Vlade?)
Kobe, for the next twenty years, you were there for so many seminal moments:
- You were there when you airballed four threes against the Jazz and all the kids of the blacktop thought you were a bust. (Amazing how we all sounded like little Skip Baylesses…)
- You were there when we stormed back against the Blazers and beat the Pacers for your first title that I watched it all on the big screen at Torrance Batting Cages while my Little League got ready for their all-star tournament.
- You were there when you steamrolled through the 2001 Playoffs allowing all my 8th grade friends to brag uncontrollably to our Madison Square Garden tour guide when we made the pilgrimmage to Washington DC/New York as a class. (As bad as the Lakers are now, at least there’s always the Knicks!)
- You were there when Robert Horry hit that miraculous three against the Kings that me and my friends watched after sneaking into a Las Vegas sportsbook to catch the ending. (We were immediately kicked out afterwards…)
- You were also there when the refs gave us Game 6. The Kings were the first team I legitmately hated so “ball don’t lie.”
- You were there when our “Super Team” of aging stars melted down against the Pistons as I watched from a friend’s house after finally getting my driver’s permit
- You were there in Eagle, Co. I really wish you weren’t.
- You were there when you hit 81-points against the Raptors as a I took every basket in from bed on a Sunday night. I had 6am weights the next morning for the El Camino College baseball team and if anyone was late, we all had to run stadiums.
- You were there when Paul Pierce rolled out in a wheelchair as I remembered to hate the Celtics with my friend Heidi from the dorms. We played videos of Terry Crews (long story) to help will the team back to no avail. (Heidi is the biggest Laker fan I know. I bet she found tickets to your final game. She has good luck like that.)
- You were there when you got back to the mountaintop against the Magic as I was moving out of my UCLA apartment (Shoutout to the Horseshoe!) for the last time.
- You were there when we got our redemption against the Celtics as I sped down the 10 to my buddy James’ beachfront Santa Monica apartment after my Dodgers’ internship let out.
- You were there when you put the 2013 team on your back but blew out your Achilles. I remember your face on the same night my good friend Kevin announced the gender of his son — The first in my friend group to be a dad.
- And you’ll be there tonight when you lace up your shoes for a final run. The rest of the world will be focused on the Warriors as they attempt to break another cherished childhood record, and for good reason (props to the Warriors), but I’ll be glued to the Deuce to see you play one last time.
The future of the team is “murky” at best. Our point guard of the future is a social pariah, our off-season plans include “hoping” and “praying” one of the Buss kids can land a super star, and I’ve spent the last two years watching some Trojan who calls himself “Swaggy P” jack up threes.
But I suppose that’s how sports go. It’s cycical. You have periods of wealth and periods of famine. Many NBA franchises would kill for just one title. (Cleveland fans nodding in agreement)
I’m 28 now. My life is all excel spreadsheets and formatting “decks.” It’s conference calls and answering e-mails. I don’t get summers off and recess has been replaced with something called “Happy Hour.” (And you play far less hoops during it.) But everytime I see Kobe play, it takes me back to when I used to put on my KOBETWOs and ball.
Twenty years, five titles and a lifetime of memories….
Thank you 24.
There will never be another one like you.