I have been up all night trying to make sense of why I’m so upset. When a celebrity dies, we all post RIP messages on Facebook and send thoughts and prayers to their family via Twitter (as if any of them would ever read it, but its the thought that counts anyway), but we don’t really feel emotionally involved.
But when a friend sent me a message saying Kobe Bryant had died on a plane crash I was genuinely and inexplicably shook to my core.
I am not a sporty person. I have very little hand-eye coordination and my stamina is, uhm, dodgy at best. But I grew up in a country that loves basketball. In fact the only sport that gets more coverage than basketball in the Philippines is a Manny Pacqiao boxing match. And when it comes to basketball, it doesn’t get any better than the National Basketball Association (NBA).
From an early age, I have been immersed in the culture of this league that yielded so many greats. From the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to their Western Conference Rivals that consisted of Malone, Stockton and Hornacek. Hill, Iverson, Ewing, Carter, Mutombo, Barkley, Payton, O’Neal, Hardaway (Penny and Tim) – I grew up watching these guys play. Rebounds, 24-second violations, three-point plays, triple doubles, fadeaways and layups were a regular part of my vocabulary just as much as cat, apple, and dog.
But I wasn’t really invested until Kobe Bryant came along. I mean, I liked MJ but he was on his way out by the time I really understood what the game meant. Kobe was different. He was young and exciting. He played with a single-minded determination that really was something to see. He laughed in the face of critics who claimed he was too arrogant because hey, if he’s winning games (and he usually did) then I believe the word for it is CONFIDENCE. He was very clearly a winner, and I loved winners. I never believed in rooting for the underdog.
Saturdays used to mean battling with my brother for control of the telly. I wanted to watch the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls on MTV’s Asia Hitlist, he wanted to watch the back-to-back NBA games that played on ESPN every weekend. But when Kobe came along and I became a Lakers fan I was there watching alongside with him, and our arguments now consisted of heated debates about the individual merits of our respective teams. I was convinced that the Shaq-Kobe duo and the flashy style of the Lakers made them the best team that ever walked the planet, he preferred the old-school defensive style of the dependable (but boring LOL) San Antonio Spurs.
I laugh now remembering how he would chant “KOBE SUCKS” during all the Lakers games because he knew it would upset me, and how upset he was when Derek Fisher made that miraculous 0.04 second game winning shot against the Spurs. I was ecstatic when the Lakers acquired veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton to support Shaq and Kobe, and devastated when the Detroit Pistons pulled an upset and, against all odds, beat the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals. (My brother was beside himself with glee).
When there were doubts about whether he would ever win a championship when Shaq moved to Miami, I never wavered. I knew Kobe could do it. He had that steely determination to win at all cost, even if he had to carry his entire team on his shoulders – and he had to do that for a while, while the Lakers attempted to rebuild.
2 championship rings later and all the naysayers were finally silenced.
I was lucky enough to be in London for the 2012 Olympics. The only ticket I bought was for one of the preliminary matches between Team USA and I can’t even remember which country now. I wanted to watch Kobe Bryant play, I didn’t care who he was playing against and how much I had to pay to do it.
Watching him on the court was every bit as exciting as I hoped it would be, and it remains one of the fondest memories of my life.
Kobe Bryant was the embodiment of my childhood. At the back of my mind, I have always been invested in his life and his career, even when I got too busy to follow the NBA games. When he announced his retirement I mourned with the rest of the world. I pored over the highlights of his final season and marvelled with the rest of the basketball fans around the world at how he, after 20 years, was still able to show us how. it. was. done.
His teammates spoke well of him and his rivals loved to hate him. He was a fierce competitor and he loved the game of basketball, genuinely loved it. He gave it all he had. I wish I had that kind of fire, that kind of passion, for my life’s work.
I’m not going to mention that infamous rape accusation. It seems silly and inappropriate to drag up something that was settled out of court in light of recent events. I will, however, comment on the impact he’s made to the league, to basketball fans, and the millions of young impressionable boys who shouted his name every time they attempted to shoot a fadeaway (or shoot a crumpled piece of paper into a wastebasket).
To be honest, I’m really not sure where I’m going with this post. I just know that I needed to get it off my chest, how devastating it was to learn about his death and that of his daughter Gigi. I think I’m upset – as I always am- by the absolute waste of a life cut short. They could have done so much more, the future was ahead of them and it was shining bright, and in the blink of an eye it was gone.
I guess there’s nothing left to do but end this post with words from the man himself:
Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep rolling.
Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020
Rest easy, Kobe. Mamba forever.