Kobe Bryant was an enigma, or so I thought. Growing up in Rhode Island, I was raised a Boston Celtics fan and nothing mattered more than the two match-ups a year against the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
I was taught to hate the purple and gold and in particular, Kobe Bryant. Was I taught to hate Kobe because our franchise selected Antoine Walker sixth overall? Probably, but our hatred for Kobe was rooted in more than just the fact that we passed on him. Bryant was the perfect villain to Celtics fans. Our hatred was rooted in his greatness, his cocky attitude and his never-give-up mentality.
The Lakers legend entered the NBA in 1996. From Lower Merion High School, just outside of his birthplace of Philadelphia, PA, Bryant was selected 13th overall.
The Charlotte Hornets had previously agreed to trade their selection to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for veteran center Vlade Divac. When the–now late–commissioner David Stern announced Charlotte would make Kobe the first ever guard to be selected directly out of high school, no one could have imagined the impact he would have on the game and the entire league.
By the time Bryant decided to call it a career, he was a five-time champion, two-time Olympic Gold medalist, 18-time NBA All-Star, 12-time NBA All-Defensive team member, 1997 Dunk Contest Champion and the fiercest competitor on the court that I have had the pleasure of witnessing.
His competitiveness was both a gift and a curse, as it ultimately contributed to one of the most famous break-ups in sports. Despite falling behind 3-2 in the series after a 38-point effort in Game 5 against the Celtics. His drive for excellence allowed him to lead the Lakers to their 16th NBA Championship in franchise history in 2010. His “Mamba Mentality” put a strain on his relationship with Dwight Howard. In the same breath, that also drove him to still take his free throw shots after rupturing his Achilles Tendon.
His pursuit of being the best birthed a new generation of East Coast Lakers fans to exist. His competitiveness inspired a crop of NBA players who refer to him as their favorite player of all-time. Kobe brought so much to the game of basketball, whether you loved him or hated him one thing was for certain, you were going to watch him.
What it Meant
Watching Kobe as a Celtics fan has been both rewarding and damning at the same time. I have been brought to tears several times by Kobe. First, when he denied the “Big Three” from capturing their second title in three years. Second, when he scored 60 points in his farewell appearance against the Utah Jazz. The next time was with his Oscar-winning “Dear Basketball” animated short. And lastly was this past Sunday, when I found out he died in a helicopter crash on his way to coach his daughter Gianna’s basketball team.
Kobe Bryant was not an enigma. He was a champion, husband, father and a flat-out legend who was able to excel in everything he put his mind to. Rest In Peace Kobe Bean Bryant, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, and the seven other victims in this horrific accident.
You will all be missed.