Stop Taking My Heroes Away
I have never met Kobe Bryant. I have never seen Kobe play in a live NBA game. I have never stood in the same room as Kobe, shook Kobe's hand or had a conversation with Kobe Bryant.
In fact, the first time Kobe Bryant came across my radar I was taught to hate Kobe Bryant! I was 5 years-old, the Philadelphia 76ers were facing the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Allen Iverson was the lone superstar carrying the 76ers to face the star studded roster of the Lakers featuring the dynamic duo that was Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
As a young Philadelphia native and huge Allen Iverson admirer, I did not want anything to do with Kobe Bryant! All the grown ups around me was hating on Kobe. They were calling Kobe a traitor for leaving his hometown team of Philadelphia to play in the bright lights of LA (As if he had a choice. He was drafted by Charlotte and they traded him to LA on draft night!). As a brand new sports fanatic, I was just learning that I had to hate a player or a team just because they were rivals with my favorite team. As an Eagles fan I will never root for the Cowboys! As a Phillies fan, I would never be caught dead in Yankees hat! And as a Sixers fan, I had to hate the Lakers and therefore I had to hate Kobe.
So as I am watching the Finals, my dislike for Kobe grew immensely. Shaq and Kobe were destroying the 76ers. Other than Allen Iverson's heroic effort in Game 1 of the Finals, the Lakers destroyed the 76ers 4-1, becoming back-to-back NBA champions. At the young age of 5, seeing Kobe and his teammates celebrate the NBA Finals victory sparked my infinite love for the battered and bruised 76ers, but it also made me loathe everything about Kobe Bryant. Kobe and Shaq continued to dominate the league, winning one more NBA title, before Shaq decided to leave the Lakers for Miami in 2004.
Picture Credit: https://www.lalive.com/news/detail/kobe-bryants-greatest-moments
As I grew older, I started to pay attention to basketball and, really learn the science of the game. I was playing basketball more and I was watching my favorite players to learn their moves and how they play the game, to try on the court in real life. I liked to watch Kevin Garnett dominate the floor on defense with his lanky frame like mine. I liked seeing Tracy McGrady bully guards that were smaller than him and dunk on guys that were bigger than him. Dwayne Wade and Allen Iverson were undersized 2-guards, but they still found ways to get it done night-in and night-out. Carmelo Anthony still has one of the best offensive repertoires in the game. Till' this day, LeBron James dominates the game with his crazy athleticism and amazing passing abilities. But Kobe Bryant was different. He showed me something that no one else had and it was not a special move. Kobe's work ethic and focus was something I have never seen or heard of before. His work ethic was so great, that it received the nickname "Mamba Mentality"(Named after his nickname "Black Mamba"). The way he talked about basketball and practicing basketball was like no other. I honestly cannot imagine how he was able to get anything else done with the amount of time he put into basketball. His mentality is something I envy, but I respect. The way he hit fadeaways against any defender, I envied it, but I respected it. I envied his 5 championships, but I respected him and his greatness. Watching him score 40+ points in 9 games straight was mind-blowing. I did not get to see the game when he scored 81 points, but I watched all of his highlights with my jaw on the floor. I could not believe my eyes while watching him. It was great watching him win two more NBA championships without Shaq. Hell, I caught myself even cheering for him! I saw Kobe rip his heart out and put it on his sleeve when he hobbled to the free throw line after tearing his achilles and still had the strength to make two free throws. And on the last game of his legendary 20 year NBA career, he did something only Kobe could do. This man faced the Utah Jazz and gave them a 60-burger to win the final game of his career. I was going nuts in my dorm room watching Kobe's Last Dance. You can even say I was a Kobe fan! And these are only a few of the highlights and achievements from the illustrious career of Kobe Bryant. My hate for Kobe matured into true admiration. I didn't see the man that beat my Sixers in the Finals when I was 5 years old. I saw one of the greatest human beings to ever touch a basketball.
Kobe was more than a basketball player. He has been a husband to his wife Vanessa Bryant and a father to his 4 daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. From what I saw, Kobe loved his family. The way he was so involved with his daughter's interest in sports was something to truly respect. I want to have daughters myself one day and I will be involved in their lives just as much if not more than how Kobe was with his. It always put a smile on my face to see the highlights of Gianna playing in the Mamba Academy. I was so sure that she would make it to the WNBA and really bring some well-deserved attention to that league.
Credit: Courtesy of Kobe Bryant/Instagram
On Sunday January 26, 2020, the world was shocked with the devastating news that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. There were seven other passengers that also died in the crash as well. I have never met Kobe Bryant. I have never seen Kobe play in a live NBA game. I have never stood in the same room as Kobe, shook Kobe's hand or had a conversation with Kobe Bryant. But when I heard the news that he passed yesterday, it felt like I lost a close relative. We didn't just lose a professional basketball player yesterday, we lost a superhero.