Kobe Bryant’s greatest moments will forever live on in Youtube reels and I’m thankful that I can always revisit them. Years from now when the memories fade, we’ll use them as ammunition in arguments with our younger coworkers and family members who doubted that anyone can play like that.
Here’s what I remember, the good and the bad.
The Utah airballs as a young gun. his first match-up against MJ. The 4th quarter comeback against Portland in the 2000 WCF, ending with crossover on Pippen leading to the famous “Bryant… to Shaq!” alley-oop. Game 4 when Shaq fouled out at Indiana. The first ring of three, a dynasty is born. Boulder, Colorado. A 3pt moonball buzzerbeater at Portland to clinch the division in 04. The feud, and Shaq leaves. The Smush Parker/Kwame Brown era begins (the Dark Ages, to me). Getting 62 in 3 quarters. Averaging 43 points for the first month of January 2006, peaking at the 81 vs Toronto. “Bryant for the win…BANG!” to go up 3-1, though it wasn’t meant to be. Trade rumors to Chicago, cursing out Bynum in the parking lot. Hope returns with Phil, and Pau Gasol. The train wreck of 39 point beatdown in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, as the hated Celtics steamrolled Kobe’s Lakers to win their first title in decades. Redemption through Team USA, taking over the 4th quarter to beat Spain for the gold. Those stupid and endearing Kobe and LeBron puppet commercials, hyping a Finals matchup that would never happen. That ridiculous one-footed leaning 3 point buzzerbeater against Wade’s Heat in 2009 that no professional player should ever even attempt, unless you say “Kobe”. The 2010 Finals. 17 in 6 minutes in the 3rd quarter to silence the Garden. 6-24, 15 rebounds in Game 7, still the most dramatic game of basketball I’ve ever seen. No one knew at the time that it would be the end of an era for Kobe and the Lakers, they’ve never returned to the Finals since. It’s now LeBron’s time. The failed CP3 trade. Dwight and Nash comes, it doesn’t work out. The Toronto comeback. The Achilles tear, the free throws. The struggle to return. The end.
Youtube will capture most, if not all of these. It won’t capture my memories of hanging out with my bro, watching KCAL right before my dad leaves for work. Watch parties with my high school friends during the deep playoff runs. College runs at the rec center, with Shaan setting up like Sasha Vujacic at the line. Every time I had a hard final or project to study, I’d mentally channel my inner Mamba (because his legendary work ethic stories had started to spread across the Internet at that point). I had the utmost pleasure of growing up with Kobe, and it breaks me a little to say goodbye to him because it’s recognizing a part of my life is now closed. I don’t even watch basketball that much anymore, it’s not a part of my routine (I blame Twitch, election season and Reddit highlights). I’m not that invested in fantasy basketball as I used to be, I’m not too emotionally invested in the young guns of our roster, and I don’t see how I could be. Kobe Bryant may literally the last athlete that I have any semblance of an emotional connection to. We grew up together, from those Utah airballs to that last ovation he’ll have tonight.
One last memory. Here is the play by play from a game at Milwaukee Bucks in 2009. The Lakers were losing by 6 points with 90 seconds left. I was eating at the time, and when I glanced over at the TV, my first reaction was “Huh, it’s okay Kobe’s got this”. After scoring the next 6 points, Kobe nails the buzzer beater (from the same exact spot he missed in regulation). That’s what I’ll miss most, it was the inevitability.
Thank you for all of it. The sweat of work, the pain of failure, the glory of rings. Thanks.