Thank You, Kobe.
Today we bid farewell to one of the most iconic individuals the sports world will ever see. After 20 seasons, 5 NBA championships, 2 Finals MVPs, 1 MVP, 18 All-Star nods, and 15 All-NBA selections, at 37 years of age, Kobe Bryant is retiring.
And today, I feel old.
Growing up in New York, I followed three professional sports teams: the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Los Angeles Lakers. The first two are rather self-explanatory, but the third raises eyebrows.
“You’re a Lakers fan?” my friends asked the first time I donned my 24 jersey.
“Yeah, of course. You heard of that guy Kobe?”
It’s not uncommon for children to have favorite players across multiple teams — in fact, I remember rooting for T-Mac, Vince Carter, Allan Houston, Shaq, and even LeBron at various times in their careers. But no one did it quite like Kobe. As an aspiring basketball player, I picked up on something special about him, something that separated him from the rest of the league.
Yeah, he could shoot, but Ray Allen was a little better. He could definitely get up, but Vince got higher. And he could clearly play some shutdown D, but Bruce Bowen guarded tighter.
So if he wasn’t the best across the board, what separated Kobe?
Kobe is fearless. When he stepped on the court, no one could stop him. In fact, opponents still struggle to slow him down (check out his 35 points against the Rockets in his 3rd-to-last game). Between the lines, Kobe was going to outwork you, out-hustle you, and outplay you every time. If you didn’t like it, too bad. He had a drive like none other, and he put it on display night-in and night-out. It’s not uncommon to watch stars slack on defense (Hey, James Harden!), but not Kobe. He would dunk on you and then pick your pocket. The next possession he’d probably drill a fade away three in your face. And you could bet Kobe wasn’t backing down. Michael Jordan? Bring it. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Kobe sought to do just that. He gave respect by showing none, and forced his opponents to earn every inch on the block. And of course, who could forget the time he showed Dwight who the boss was… (Yes, us Lakers fans are still bitter.)
Kobe is loyal. 20 years and 1 team?! Dang. In the modern sports world, changing organizations is the game. Unhappy in your city? Ask for a trade. Tired of losing? See ya! Not Kobe. Playing for 20 years and winning 5 championships means you did not win 15 times, but he was in it for the long haul. You’ve got to respect someone who is dedicated to making where they are great, instead of chasing glory elsewhere. The grass ain’t always greener, as Mr. Bryant will tell you.
Kobe is, well, Kobe. How many kids across America grew up whispering “Kobe!” while letting shots fly in their driveways? I know I was one of them. He’s so good we thought just mentioning his name would make us better at basketball. Everything he did, both on the court and off, Kobe had a swagger about him that to this day is unmatched. You just knew he was the man, and all you could do was bask in his awesomeness. That smile he flashed after big plays was so empowering, so special, that the only way to describe it is “Kobe being Kobe.”
He’s so good we thought just mentioning his name would make us better at basketball.
So today, we say goodbye to Kobe, and I say goodbye to a piece of my childhood.
Kobe — thank you for teaching 10 year old Dylan how to play hoops. Thank you for showcasing your fearless competitive nature. Thank you for showing me what truly desiring to win means. Thank you for all you have done for the sport of basketball and for the Lakers organization.
And thank you for being you.