I’m obviously a huge NFL fan, but I also consider myself a fan of most sports. I’m also a total homer. Born in Dallas and raised in Arlington, TX I was born into the DFW sports scene. As such I’ve always loved my Cowboys through better or, mostly, worse. I’ve enjoyed watching my Mavericks long sustained success and now, rebirth, thanks to Luka Doncic. I’ve had my heart ripped out by the Longhorns and Rangers more times than I care to admit; and frankly, that’s the beautiful thing about being a sports fan.
You have your teams that you love with every ounce of passion you possess. You also have rival teams that make you feel levels of angry that you didn’t know existed. With those rival teams comes rival players. While this column has been, and will continue to be, strictly all things Truth Serum Football, I want to take a moment to recognize a roundball player, that at times in my life, I despised more than any other on the planet. A player whose career I watched from beginning to end. A player who changed the game, rewrote the record books, and left a trail of broken hearts, along the way. Today I want to talk about the most lethal assassin to ever pick up a basketball, Kobe Bryant; and what he meant to me as a fan of the game of basketball.
I was 9 years old when Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Hornets, and swiftly dealt to the Lakers. At this point in my life I could not comprehend why the Lakers would trade Vlade Divac, a perennial double-double threat, for some teenager from Italy. Little did I know that this was one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history. Vlade was a really solid player, and peaked when he went to the Kings, who coincidentally never could get over the hump of Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers. Kobe Bryant was a transcendent talent who became affectionately known as the Black Mamba. At one time it appeared that Kobe had a shot at passing Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s all time scoring record, before an Achilles injury would ultimately derail the twilight of his career. Kobe won 5 NBA titles, finished his career third all time in scoring, was a 17 time all-star, 12 time All Defensive Team, 2 time Olympic Gold Medalist, an MVP, a Finals MVP, and a slam dunk champion. He was the man that helped restore the proud Lakers Dynasty.
Of the top 8 scorers in NBA history, 6 played for the Lakers in their career, and only 2 spent their entire team with one franchise. Kobe Bryant was the only to do both. (Shout out to my favorite player ever Dirk Nowitzki for also spending his entire career with MY Dallas Mavericks). Kobe was not just a Laker great; he was the Laker Great. He was Mr. Laker. He’s arguably the greatest player for the greatest franchise in NBA history. I could go on all day about Kobe’s statistics and accolades, but I want to discuss the other side of Kobe Bryant. That side that we all despised, before we came to love. I’ll never forget reading the letter penned by a Celtics fan on Kobe’s Last game.
"Dear Kobe Bryant,
I hate you.
Can you blame me? As a Celtics fan, I rooted against you for two decades. I rejoiced in your agony when my Celtics beat you in the 2008 Finals. Paul Pierce deserved it way more than you did. You already had three rings at the time.
But three just wasn’t enough for you. You got your revenge and ultimately your fifth ring in 2010 while ripping my heart out in the process. I hope you still know how lucky you are that Kendrick Perkins was out for Game 7.
I read your letter in the Players' Tribune today and was shocked. Not because you announced your retirement – we all already knew that. I was shocked because of the way your letter made me feel.
In my mind, I have always grouped you and Derek Jeter together. You are the players that we as Boston fans bitterly hate, but cannot help but respect. You played the game the right way – with passion, pride, and professionalism.
You were true students of the game who pursued greatness by working harder than anybody. You became generational icons of your respective sports. You embraced every challenge. You gave it your all. You put your bodies on the line. You knew how to win. You respected your sport, your craft, and your rivalry with Boston.
December 30 marks the last time that you will play in Boston. This is also the last opportunity for us Celtics fans to cheer our team to victory against arguably the most dominant player in the storied history of the Celtics and Lakers.
As you go, so goes what is left of the rivalry that once dominated the NBA. Perhaps someday it will be rekindled by new faces. Perhaps not.
So when you come to the Garden next month, I hope the crowd puts you through hell. I hope we heckle you and boo you more emphatically than we did in the championship bouts. I hope you miss every single free throw. I hope you never forget what it’s like to be surrounded by 17,000 screaming fans who bleed green and would give anything to watch you fail one last time.
I hope we beat LA once again. And when you get pulled from the lineup halfway through the fourth quarter when my Celtics are up by 20 points, I think something beautiful will happen.
Every single person in the Garden will stop booing. We will rise to our feet and show respect in the form of the loudest, most passionate standing ovation you have ever witnessed. We will chant your name. We will wipe our eyes. We will say our bittersweet farewells.
They say you never truly know what you got 'til it’s gone. So before you go, I just want to say thank you for being far more than just a great basketball player. To an entire generation of NBA fans, you are basketball.
I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I’m really going to miss you.
Love (and hate) you always,
A Celtics fan who didn’t appreciate you enough”
This letter spoke to my soul and changed how I looked at sports in general. I had HATED this man at several points in his career. Everyone will remember the 81-points Kobe dropped against a defenseless Raptors squad. Most people forget that a few weeks prior to that outburst he dropped 62 against my Mavs. Oh, and he only played 3 quarters. He also had outscored the Mavericks entire team by himself when he checked out in the third. As dominant as that was he might have been even more devastating the time he scored 30 points in the 4th quarter on his way to 52 and an overtime victory against my Mavs. Kobe had at least one game of 40+ points against every single NBA team he played against. Non Lakers fans HATED Kobe Bryant.
As Kobe’s career crept to a close, I found myself rooting for him, much like the Celtics fan in this letter. I was glued to my seat watching him drop 60 in his last game. He didn’t have the chance to go out with the game winner in the finals like Jordan. But he went out on his terms. He played the most Kobe game of his career. He dropped 60 that night on an NBA record 50 shots. He took 15 more shots than the rest of his team combined. A large part of Kobe’s career can be summed up in this meme:
After that game I looked at Kobe completely differently. Not just Kobe either. I looked at what Tom Brady was doing differently. I looked at what Lebron James was doing differently. As much as players like Steph Curry and James Harden really get under my skin in todays game, I look at them in a different light. These guys are legends in the making, and you never know when it’s going to end just like that. Dirk was Dirk, until he wasn’t. Kobe lost his dominance when his Achilles went. Shaq got old. Tom Brady is getting old. So is Drew Brees. All of these amazing athletes who have given me joy and pain throughout my childhood, and now, adult life are slowly fading away. Kobe was the one who made it all make sense to me.
I watched as Lebron passed Kobe on the all time scoring list on Saturday. It was a surreal moment for me as I got to watch the player I consider the best to ever do it, pass the guy who was the best to do it during my childhood. One Laker, passing another Laker, chasing a different Laker, who is behind another Laker. Kareem, Malone, Lebron, Kobe. This would be an amazing Mt. Rushmore for any team but how do you leave out Magic, Shaq, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor, Wilt, Jerry West, George Mikan etc. Yet with all of those legends and hall of famers, none of them defined being a Los Angeles Laker the way that Kobe Bryant did. I went to bed on a real high note on Saturday knowing that I had just witnessed true greatness.
The next day was very different. An old coworker sent me a text and asked if I had heard the news about Kobe. I instantly googled and found out that he had passed, along with his daughter and seven other people. I called my good friend Jimmy up and told him the news. He is a lifelong Laker fan with a son naturally named, Kobe. I’ve been around for many sports tragedies in my day. I remember Dale Earnhardt, Sean Taylor, and Jose Fernandez. Hell, for that matter I remember Eddie Guerrero and Owen Hart. But nothing ever hit me like this did. Kobe Bryant was that rare athlete that transcended his sport. One day after his death and I have seen football celebrations honoring him, futbol celebrations honoring him, a tribute at the Royal Rumble, NBA teams taking 8 and 24 second penalties in his honor, and even the Grammys paying special tribute to him.
I will forever be grateful that I was able to witness Kobe Bryant play the game of basketball. I don’t know if I’ll ever see another truly like him, nor do I think I ever want to. As the whole world mourns Kobe Bryant I will join them. I will still yell “Kobe!” anytime I throw anything towards a trash can or laundry basket. I will still always hate him for dropping 62 in 3 quarters against my Mavs, and I will always cherish the amazing performances I was blessed to witness because of him. Being able to watch, participate, and engage in sports is a true blessing; especially when you get to watch athletes like Kobe Bean Bryant. Rest In Peace.