It’s Just A Game, Right?

Catching up with Kobe in Santa Barbara, 2014
“Why do you even care? It’s not like you’re part of the team or played or whatever…”, she said.

It’s one of those statements that always preludes another one we’ve all heard before:

“It’s just a game.”

The she in this instance was an ex-girlfriend, and the occasion was 17 seconds after the Lakers had been swept out of the ’99 playoffs by the Spurs.

I was a senior in High School, and a brave survivor of the bowlcut epidemic that forced me to wear a part right down the middle of my head. At the time, I had the emotional maturity of Norman Bates, so as you can imagine, I calmly zipped up my Starter jacket and responded with words that were perfectly suitable for the occasion:

“My goodness, you’re right. It IS just a game! I don’t know these players personally, and I’m not on the Lakers payroll. I’m SO sorry! I lost myself a little bit. Let’s get out of here and go see the Matrix again.”

… And we all lived happily ever after.

The End.

Only, we all know that statement never happened. My actual response was unquestionably NSFW, so let’s just say the rest of the conversation probably went something like this:

17 years later, I sharply remember details about that conversation from the night of May 23, 1999.

Most of all, I remember that I couldn’t explain why I cared so much about a team I didn’t play for, that had a roster full of millionaires I’d never met, and played in a city I no longer lived.

I couldn’t make sense of it. I couldn’t translate it into a reasonable explanation. I couldn’t defend my unhinged behavior.

All I knew was this:

I don’t know why, but nobody cares as much as I do…

And it was in the completion of that simple (albeit misplaced) conclusion that my sports love affair with Kobe Bryant was born.

I don’t know why, but nobody cares as much as I do…
Except for Kobe Bryant.

He bemoaned losing. He scowled at opponents. He screamed after dunks. Most of all, he showed a genuine disgust after losses, and seemed authentically dissatisfied after wins.

Long before the awards, championships, and game-winners, I was just an average teenager who bridged a connection to that emotional drive that has distinctively marked Kobe Bryant’s career, both in success, and in failure.

As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Kobe’s NBA career unfold over the last 20 years, I’ve most enjoyed watching his response to failure.

There have been times when he tenaciously bounces back from a failure with a resounding success. … And other times, he just tenaciously bounces back.

In so many ways, his career has been a mirror for my life. Sometimes failure is a necessary prelude for success, and sometimes it’s just a little propane in your tank that you’ll use to chase a different goal.

As #MambaDay unfolds at Staples Center tonight, I’ll remember the awards, the championships, the game-winners, and the afternoon I got to sit down with him

But I’ll most remember that night way back in ’99 when I first connected with the emotional drive I saw in Kobe, and bought into the idea that if you care enough about something, and allow that to be the centerpiece of your actions, there are no limitations in life.

Thanks for 20 years of greatness. The NBA will never be the same. #MambaDay

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