For Kobe and Fans alike,
As I type this letter, I have one good hand – the other recovering from a deep puncture wound and several stitches. Why would I share that? Why would I still write about Kobe’s career, on the eve on his last game? Because countless times over the years we have watched Kobe Bryant fight through pain, adversity and become one of the greatest players of all-time. We watched him play through broken fingers, hurt knees and shoulders – that drive and passion for what he loved, is what makes tonight so special. Personal opinions about Bryant may vary, some have loved him since he showed up in Los Angles a 18-year old “cocky” kid with a huge smile while others hated it. When he learned to model his game after Michael Jordan almost to perfection, some watched in awe standing firm on the belief that he is better than MJ while others hated the comparison (even though it has been impossible to deny from day one). As Jalen Rose put it, “MJ is the original…Kobe is the remix.”
No matter what your opinion is about Kobe Bryant – you cannot respect the game of basketball without respecting him. Everything great about basketball is personified in that #24 jersey. If you define a basketball career by the number of championships, 5 is more than worthy of approval. If you’re a fan of the Uncle Drew “this game is all about buckets” approach, an 81 point game vs. Raptors back in 2006 probably made him in an instant favorite. Maybe it was dropping 62 on the Mavericks while sitting out the entire 4th quarter or 61 points in the famed Madison Square Garden.
If you’re a fan of athleticism and an adrenaline junky type casual fan that watches solely for incredible dunks/highlight reel plays, you probably became a fan of Kobe early on as the NBA Dunk champion that brought a different swagger to the competition as a young’n looking to prove himself. For those on the opposite end of the spectrum that respect a blue collar work ethic, X’s and O’s of the game – things that don’t show up on the stat sheet we wonder is there anyone that you can name that has outworked Bryant over the last 20 years? We’ll wait…..
It’s one thing to put in that work but to achieve the level of success to match (5-time champion, 2-time scoring leader, MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, 4-time All-Star MVP, 2-time Gold Medalist and future Hall of Famer) is incredible. As tonight marks the end of his career, maybe it’s been his ability to overcome adversity and still be successful that made you love Bryant. If you remember his first outing in the playoffs, he shot multiple clutch air balls that had people questioning his ability to perform under pressure. Fast forward to where we are today and there are few players that you’d rather have the ball with the game on the line. When Bryant suffered a devastating loss to the Boston Celtics in the Finals, there was nothing he wanted more than to come back and get revenge – mission accomplished in a crucial Game 7 back in 2007. If you remember him tearing his Achilles and still walking to the free throw line to knock down his free throws like nothing was wrong, that perfectly sums up Kobe and his career.
That drive, that hunger is undeniable. He’s pretty much an adjective when you talk about it – if I said “they have a Kobe work ethic” what are you going to equate that to? Exactly. Which is why although a chapter of his life is coming to a bittersweet end, there is no doubt he will be successful in the next one. He’s simply a winner. A champion cut from a different pedigree. The Black Mamba. Salute.
Tune in tonight as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Utah Jazz for Kobe Bryant’s last game.