I haven’t been the biggest Kobe Bryant fan. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s had a great career, and he’s achieved some of the greatest feats in the history of professional basketball. I know greatness when I see it. He’s no Michael Jordan, but he even said in the beginning of his career, that he didn’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, but the first Kobe Bryant.
I remember him being the hotshot 17 year old entering the NBA playing a game similar to Michael Jordan, becoming a 5 time NBA champion with the Lakers, imitating Michael’s jump-on-the-stats-table celebration. I remember the 81 points he scored against the Raptors, actually getting excited that maybe, just maybe he’d break Wilt Chamberlain. I remember him passing his idol, Michael Jordan, for third place on the NBA all-time points leaderboard. I also remember him publicly running into trouble with his marriage which showed that for everything he’s done and achieved, he was just as human as the rest of us.
I remember him going up against Air Jordan, and Air Canada. I remember Jordan’s retirement, proclaiming the game was in good hands, knowing that Kobe was his heir apparent. Kobe even inherited his coach.
Today, on his final game in Canada, in Toronto, I feel similar to when St. John Paul II died: Kobe, like JPII, has been such an ingrained part of our collective existence and consciousness, and you think they’d be there forever. When St. JPII died, it was so weird not living in a world where another dude would be Pope. Likewise with Kobe, he’d been playing ever since I was in high school. It’s hard for me to imagine an NBA without Kobe. Sure, Lebron is there, and Stephen Curry is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in the NBA. And all of today’s stars directly owe a debt of gratitude for the development of their game.
Father Time and Mother Nature will win out in the end. He’s not the player today that he was even 5 years ago. Life is ironic. In his mind, he has the knowledge and experience that could run circles around every player in this game and could take them down like nobody’s business. But his body isn’t as strong as his mind. All of us, elite athletes or Joe Shmoes will have the same thing happen to us. It happened to Michael. It happened to Wayne Gretzky. It will happen to Lebron, and Steph. Kobe will never get the feeling of hoisting another Larry O’Brien trophy. But a glimpse of the young Kobe may happen tonight. It happened on Gretzky’s last game in Toronto, where he got an assist from his Office, in the old Maple Leaf Gardens.
So let’s appreciate the entire career of Kobe, rather than just focussing on his downfall. Let’s remember that this guy will never play here again, but remember all the great things that he did as a player, even if it was against the Raptors. He may not be the greatest of all time like Michael Jordan. And he may not be what we and even he remembers Kobe Bryant to be. But he is still the man, Kobe Bryant, and has lived the dream of millions around the world: excelling at his chosen profession and being able to support himself and his family. And no matter who you are or what you do, that is a dream that we all share.