It was a warm Sunday afternoon in downtown Houston as I started to make my way down Jackson street towards the Toyota Center. I was in town to watch Kobe Bryant’s last game in Houston, but from all the purple and gold # 24 jerseys walking up to the stadium you’d figure we were in the heart of L.A. For every red shirt you saw, there were at least three Kobe jerseys. That’s how much this guy is loved throughout the league, you may not like him because of what he’s done to your team in the past but people were willing to put that to the side to honor his greatness.
I have yet to experience the NBA without Kobe Bryant, I was six years old when he came into the league. I grew up emulating him in my drive way every single day trying to perfect that footwork like him. I understood at a young age that if you want to be great at something, you’re going to have to work for it. It’s because of him I became obsessive with perfection, to this day I hate to lose more than I like to win. He taught me how to love the process, to enjoy the ride. I identified with him way more than just an athlete, he was someone who taught me about life without ever speaking a word directly at me.
It wasn’t until two years ago that I really started to give the thought of him retiring from the game of basketball real consideration. At first, I had no idea how to process that because the NBA without Kobe wasn’t real to me, I don’t know anything but that. I knew this day was going to come, but I’m not sure I was ready for it just yet. Even after twenty years, I wanted him to defy Father Time and keep it going. But we all know that you can’t outrun old age, and by NBA standards Kobe is 95.
Over the last two decades Kobe Bryant has torched many teams night in and night out. When you’re third All-Time in points scored, you’ve given a healthy dose of buckets to everybody who ever lined up across from you. Last night as he took center stage in Hollywood for the last time we were reminded why there will never be another player quite like Kobe Bean Bryant.
60 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 22/50 from the floor and let’s not forget he played all but six minutes of the game. Kobe came back to form after a slow start in the first half and the rest was history. Becoming the oldest player in history to score 60 points, meanwhile, setting the record for most points scored in a players last game. Watching him put on a show almost moved me to tears on many occasions. It took me back to baby fro Kobe with the # 8, it took me back to the Three-Peat with Shaq, it took me back to the 81 point night, it took me back to 2008 and that crushing finals loss to Boston and last but not least, it took me back to the back to back titles with Pau Gasol alongside.
There were plenty of highs throughout Kobe’s twenty year career, but there were also many lows.
The way he bounced back from those lows is what really makes me proud to be a Kobe Bryant fan. You could never count him out, he was always as dangerous as anyone whose ever laced them up. There was no quit in him, that’s what really separated him from the rest of the pack.
I wrote my farewell letter to Kobe before he announced his retirement.
I poured my heart out in that piece and I didn’t want to make this one feel like a funeral. I wanted this piece to feel like a celebration, the celebration of two decades of greatness. Even though we won’t see Kobe on TV every other night anymore, he’ll still be there. He’ll be there in spirit, he’s already said on many occasions that he’s going to work with the young core of Russell, Randle and Clarkson during the summer. His finger prints will still be all over this franchise, much like him on the court.
I held back the tears on Wednesday night because of the explosive performance he put on. There was no way I could shed a tear after the way he brought in back to 2006 Mamba, plus, I was with this special lady I just started dating, couldn’t let her see that just yet. But seriously, I felt at peace saying goodbye to one of my heroes, he gave all of us one last performance that we can put alongside the rest of the memories he’s provided. He put the Lakers on his back one last time like he has hundreds of times over the last twenty years.
I sit here and realize that it’s over, Kobe. This was the last time I see you on center stage. I’ll never see you rock the purple and gold armor in Staples again but I’m alright with that. You gave us everything you had, never in your career did I question your commitment to excellence, to being the best. Thank you, Kobe, thank you. You did more for the game of basketball then you’ll ever realize. You impacted many life’s along the way, you were truly someone who made a difference, on and off the court. You were brutally honest and always spoke your mind, you always stayed true to yourself.
The game will never be the same without you, the game is better because of you.
Thank you, Kobe.