I… don’t know how to explain how I feel. I’ve not experienced loss in my family that was close to me. Somehow, someway, this feels like I just lost my older brother. Someone who was tried and true. Someone who fought through everything that was thrown his way and ALWAYS found a way out of the fire. Kobe. Kobe. Kobe… You riddled my childhood with being able to see what I didn’t see from Mike cause I was too young. It didn’t make sense to me until I was about 3, 4 years old. Pistons in the middle of winning over Jordan. You gave me the full experience of being able to see you in high school and then jump straight to the NBA. You instantly became my favorite. The smile on your face as you declared from the league. The bald head you rocked that mirrored Jordan. Even I used to sport a bald fade. The one that looks like yours actually. I did it because of Jordan. It related directly to you. Except, there was a missing piece that I didn’t get from Jordan. The trials and tribulation of encountering things in life that set you up to make a decision. Make a jump. Take a risk. You were successful early but never sat down and ate your dessert. I was the same way. Not knowing how to accept success, only looking at my next challenge. Not stopping to bask in the moment.
Nowadays, I don’t even want moments, I want forever. Why didn’t I get blessed with forever? A basketball obsessed boy now grown. I’m interested in everything that comes with the passion, after the passion that exists because of the passion. I’m rooted into all things basketball and you have been the root of my debate, my argument, my perspective, my everything when it comes to basketball…
“With the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft…”
My basketball world began to revolve around you. Waiting for every moment you stepped on the floor. I watched so many Laker games that I have a constant highlight reel of you that has never stopped playing in my head at all. When I think of basketball, you are the first thought that comes to my mind. Greatness. The willingness to lay it all on the line and risk failure… Then actually fail. The airballs against the Jazz. It only truly led to the ascension. It only showed the willingness that many people lack. It’s not something that can be teached. It already has to be there. It became apart of my DNA. Maybe it made me a bit argumentative when it came to things regarding you and the NBA as a whole. Maybe it’s the reason I tend to view things with a chip… How? I write. I didn’t make the NBA.
Countless late nights that rolled into 1am, 2am in Detroit, putting up shots and competing with my friends. Shoveling the snow to shoot. Sweeping the rain from my father’s old place to keep the ball a bit more drier and chasing it down to avoid the puddles. The mud. All to try to perfect the leaner. You and MJ. Much more of YOU.
The days I had to fight over who was the best slasher. The best 2 guard. Kobe, Iverson, Carter, T-Mac, and so on. We won Kobe. You’re the only champion of the group of those greats. The playoffs against the Kings, although Robert Horry knocked down the shot that helped continue your legacy, I still felt as if you had taken the shot. Biased a bit. Much of a Stan in those days. A Kobe Stan. They labeled me. I didn’t care.
The tough match-up against the Pacers where it was clearly shown that you were the reason that your team was to succeed. Winning! Winning! I knew you had arrived during the season that had led up to playing the Nets in the finals and it was proven. Only then were you truly challenged thereafter. Still chasing Jordan. Playing games against him and using his arsenal against him. Although he was practically helpless at this point, you still took the time to show him all that you’ve mastered up to this point. You took the baton without taking time to grab it. You just brought the fire to the baton instead.
We live in a America. Land of second chances. I know what mistake you made. I’m not one that agrees with your decision but I support your actions during that time thereafter. Everyone who hated you began to hate you more. You were dropped by many sponsors. In the end, it led to stability and an understanding that there’s things you have to honor and nurture. You began to do those things. People do that everyday without someone trying to get something out of it. No respect for marriage. You also violated yours. Human? Lacking discipline. You came to each game anyways even after the cases with no prep, all travel and still performed and even led you team to huge victories with game-winners. I have not forgotten the greatness you possess on the basketball floor. You are the ultimate fear for your opponent. I think everyone forgot the games against the Blazers to help you jump multiple spots in the playoffs out in the tough West. Constant fights with Duncan, Webber, Nash, one with Melo, even fighting with CP3 for an MVP award. You succeeded because you wear the will within. Then everything fell apart against my hometown Pistons. Even I was torn for who to root for. This was my team, but so were you and the Lakers. I’m happy I was able to experience a championship in my lifetime. Some teams have none. You already had 3. The team then implodes and things change drastically…
“We all fall down to get up again…”
You ended up With Rudy T as your coach en route to you fighting to become independent from the arguments that “you cannot win without Shaq”. A man. Staking his own claim. Placing himself in the group of the greats without being Robin to some other Batman or Superman. You fell to injury that season and the Lakers weren’t able to carry themselves without you. Then you came back to full strength. You made amends with Phil Jackson. Maybe the truth is he knew he could continue to win with you. Either way, it helped further cement your growth at this stage and your ability to continue on and make things work. You still had issues with teammates who lacked the will to become better. Then you even decided to put the world on notice by playing within the gameplan and not hijacking it. To show everyone you could be a team player, but it was heartless. Even in that moment against the Suns who were able to be beaten, you decided that you’ll be back. Who even believes in what they say anymore? That willpower is unmatched.
Fast forward, the team goes through a rebuild period not known by many superstars. Eventually you land Gasol and the sky is the limit once the new Batman received his Robin. You then go on to win WITHOUT SHAQ! YESSSSS! Then you go on to become apart of the Lakers/Celtics history. What more could you ask for? 1-1? I’ll take it. A loss and then revenge. It was a perfect addition to your career. Everyone didn’t consider the Magic a real test for your team, so why not beat the team that came together, in my opinion, because of you? WIN WIN WIN!
Suddenly the league has others to want to spread their wings, other injuries ensue and Dirk, KD & Russ, and the Spurs takeover what will be the future of the West. Well, it seemed that way. Then, the Achilles snaps… I was right there feeling low as I watched you shed tears while reporters surrounded you. The man of the league at the time. You handed the league to LeBron but you may have given your magic touch to the same team you were injured against, the Golden State Warriors. I’ll just throw in that I’m still upset that Dahntay Jones decided to sprain your ankle on purpose while playing for the Hawks in that same season. You still gave it a go against the Pacers. Indomitable will. You’re covered in that. I’ll run through things like, another rebuild, Gasol leaving, and you dropping 60 in your final game against the Jazz. Shaq only asked for 50! LOL
Retirement… the end of seeing my favorite player on the basketball court but old enough to understand that you weren’t a superhero, you weren’t invincible, you weren’t without fault, you were human. You fell like us, you thought like us, you fought like us, you even held grudges against competition same way we hold grudges. I then began to wonder what would become of you. Would we see you at all. Maybe just sitting in at games. Then came “Dear Basketball”. Oscar winner. Recently, Emmy winner. Mamba academy. Coaching GiGi and being a father and husband to your family. I seen you being a man. Just like the ones I rub shoulders with. Football coaches, recreational basketball coaches, and so on. Being there for their sons and daughters. Being active. I watched every interview that included you. You and Shaq burying the hatchet. You speaking on Mamba Academy. You with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes recently… I’m rambling and lost at this point. I’m lost because you didn’t get a chance to fully be everything that was setup for you after basketball. You didn’t get a chance to watch you daughters grow and leave the nest. GiGi, God bless you, she was destined for the WNBA… I’m hurting from this loss… Life isn’t fair. I’ve shed my tears and now my eyes are heavy. Kobe.. I’ll never get over this. I’ll never let go of the constant highlight reel in my head that features you first. I’ll never forget your mistakes the helped shape me. Your will, determination, your drive. I’ll never be happy until the “job is finished”.
I’ll probably never love to watch a basketball player the way I loved watching you. I hate memories because they aren’t forever. I can’t wake up and you’re still alive and still doing this. Everything is now a chef that’ll serve me tears. I’m torn. God bless everyone on that helicopter. I can’t imagine the last moments you had with Gianna as a father. As fathers, we always say that everything will be alright. I can’t imagine the feeling of falling knowing the world is ready to pick you up but can’t catch you… I can’t imagine watching the Hall Of Fame ceremony without you Kobe. I can’t imagine basketball without your guidance to players. Without creating the next Kobe-like player. I can’t imagine. Unfortunately, this is reality… I’m heartbroken. Tears are now how your memories end. Thank you for being apart of my childhood, my adulthood, and in my life Kobe…
I guess God needed you on Pluto…
By: Michael Tolliver Jr (Opinionated MJ)