I do not like the Lakers. I am a life long Celtics fan with a tendency to despise the purple and gold. In addition, I do not like Kobe Bryant. He has been the face of the Lakers for most of my life and my entire time as a basketball fan, which began in 2006. He has been responsible for some of the hardest losses that my Celtics have endured, and has been a villain from my perspective for my entire life. I got so sick of seeing his highlights on Sportscenter, his advertisements on television, and his Lakers on the big stage in the playoffs. Mike Tirico said it well in the postgame wrap up on Kobe’s final game tonight. “Fans around the NBA didn’t love Kobe, they loved to hate Kobe Bryant.” I am guilty as charged there.
But today is not the time for me to think about all of that. I had a great conversation earlier this week with a friend of mine who is also a hard core Celtics fan, but has a special appreciation for Kobe. My friend was born in the Phillipenes, and he came of age as a Celtics fan after he moved to Boston in 2004. Before then, he was a basketball fan at large, and as he put it, “Kobe was the face of basketball to us around the world”. He has a special appreciation for Kobe, as he was the face of a sport he came to love as he grew up. He gave so many thrills to fans around the world and set the standard for how to compete. He succeeded Michael Jordan as the most exciting player in basketball. He made fans stop and marvel at what he did on a nightly basis. And he earned his way into NBA lore.
I watched the second half of the Lakers game against the Jazz because I wanted to see what the reaction in the crowd would be. I wanted to see how Kobe’s incredible 20 year career would end. Mostly, I wanted to watch him play one last time. I may have painful memories from watching him play, but I cannot help but respect him.
I cannot help but appreciate how great Kobe Bryant was last night and how great he was for his whole career. He set the standard for years with his clutch play making, toughness, and silky smooth play. His accomplishments are legendary. He’s the 3rd all time scorer in NBA history, a 5 time Champion, scored 81 points in a game, scored 60 points in his final NBA game, and played in 18 all star games. All of this as a kid drafted out of high school when he was just 17 years old. He couldn’t sign his first NBA contract because he wasn’t 18! He needed his parents to cosign his contract. Not a bad outcome for him.
I’m also in a position where I have to move on as a basketball fan. Kobe has been playing the entire time I’ve been aware of basketball. He was always there, always on TV and always playing hard. He was the best in the league for my time in middle school and most of high school. He came to define what a great basketball player is for my generation. Now he’s done. That’s it. No more dunks, clutch shots, or Mamba highlights. The Celtics fan in me loves that. The basketball fan in me has to adjust in a massive way without him being there. I am watching a big piece of my childhood retire from basketball. Much as I rooted against him, he was always there and I couldn’t ignore him. Now, he’s done. I’ll never be able to fully appreciate him as a player anymore. That is an eerie feeling. But for now, I am perfectly willing to say congratulations to Kobe on a Hall of Fame career, and thank you for giving me so many moments where I had to appreciate the sport of basketball, more specifically, the way you played that sport.