What Kobe Means to Me

The number 8 has two meanings for me. First, it represents the age when I began to play and develop my passion for the game of basketball. Secondly, it represents when I was first introduced to the Kobe Bryant, wearing the number 8. Growing up in LA, I was accustomed to championship aspirations with the Lakers winning 3 championships in a row and reaching the finals 4 consecutive years from 2000-2003 followed by another 3 finals appearances and an additional 2 NBA championships from 2008-2010. In total, that is 5 NBA championships in a span of a decade. An era of dominance that we most likely won’t see for a long time. While players come and go, the one consistency through it all was Kobe Bryant. Relentless, Passion, Heart, Determination, these are some of the adjectives I use to describe the basketball career of Kobe Bryant. As Kobe announced his retirement two Sundays ago from the game that he loves, it struck me to the core that the NBA and Lakers organization were losing one of the top competitors that fans, coaches and players alike have ever seen. As I reflect on what Kobe means to me, it was difficult to comprehend and put into words how much he has meant not only for me but for the city of Los Angeles. For 20 years, the name Kobe and Lakers have been synonymous. I was asked by someone if I was a Laker fan or Kobe fan, and to be honest as I thought about it, I had not realized that there was a distinction for me. When I was growing up it was Kobe who was wearing the uniform, not Kareem, not Magic, not Wilt or West. For 20 years the Lakers were Kobe. It is often said that no one is bigger than the game of basketball, however when it came to Mr. Bryant, it seemed that the individual had eclipsed the Laker brand itself for a brief moment in time. The reason for this impression was his consistency. He achieved greatness through his obsession of perfecting his craft. He made the game winning shot before he ever checked into the scorer’s table, through the countless hours of work put in before tipoff. He left you speechless with some of the incredible clutch shots he took throughout his career. He was the first player that I was able to witness on television, where I learned how to play with an edge and develop a killer competitive instinct. He was my hero. A human being who seemed to will what he wanted on the court in a supernatural way. His standard for excellence was so high that at times it seemed to drive players away. Kobe continued the tradition of winning that the Lakers have long established throughout its illustrious history. However in doing so, Kobe made a distinct name for himself in Laker lore, winning 5 titles, 2 Finals MVPs, 17-time All-star, 1 League MVP and 9-time All-Defensive Team. As I see the current Kobe struggling to shoot above .300 from the field, I realize that this isn’t the player I once knew and can’t help but think that all good things must come to an end. Kobe marched to the beat of his own drum and achieved greatness in as unique of a way as his nickname Black Mamba. I will never forget how spoiled I was for most of my life to expect greatness each game from Kobe. I will never forget the titles and the joy he brought to the City of Angels. While this season won’t conclude with another title, I can appreciate Kobe’s career and relive those past memories and appreciate his final season with the only colors he knows, purple and gold.  

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports