Tonight the Lakers raise not one but two jerseys into the rafters as we celebrate the career of one of the greats. Kobe Bryant was a childhood hero for me. My love of basketball started at the young age of 8, it was the second of the Lakers three championships with the dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe and my first time watching the magical game. My parent's had gone out for the evening which meant I was stuck with a babysitter. Luckily for me that babysitter was a pretty cool guy who spent our time together either watching hoops or putting up shots in the driveway. His bedroom walls were covered in Kobe posters, he had binders full of trading cards and a closet full of jerseys. It was a collection of basketball memorabilia that I would ogle every chance I got. I remember him sitting me down and explaining "you can do whatever you want, play lego, whatever, I'm just going to watch the game." Well, I wanted to be like my cool guy babysitter so I sat myself down and watched. What I saw was mesmerizing. The NBA finals, Lakers vs. Sixers, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant. It's easy to see why I fell in love.
Kobe Bryant has a special place in my memories of the NBA, as he likely does with most fans my age, and it's his longevity that spoiled us all. Whether he was flying around the court throwing down spectacular dunks, rocking number 8 and an afro, or draining a step back with a hand in his face while wearing 24, Kobe's game was breath taking. I think back to those Shaq and Kobe days as fond memories from childhood, while just a few years ago we saw him end his career by dropping 60 on the Utah Jazz. For 20 years he dominated opponents and brought us arguably the most competitive athlete we've ever seen, he brought us the "mamba mentality".
It's hard to pick a favourite Kobe moment. Recency bias says it was his final game, the ultimate feel good moment for a Kobe fan. I know a lot of people who would say it was his 81 points against the Raptors. Personally I have to say it was seeing him lead the Lakers past their bitter rivals, the Boston Celtics in 2010, one of the most memorable game 7's in my mind. Kobe's edge, his killer instinct and cold demeanor made him an absolute joy to watch. When Kobe decided to take over a game you could see it, his presence on the court would change. You could see it on his face, it was Kobe time.
All the awards in the world didn't satisfy Kobe, his obsession with winning was what drove him to be who he was, a champion.Winning titles placed Kobe, if only briefly, in the same conversation as Michael Jordon. Two men who helped set the precedent we now hold high in the NBA. If you want to be the greatest, it's all about the chips. Although incredible, it is not Kobe's 18 all star appearances, 15 all NBA selections or an MVP winning season that we will remember him for, it's his handful of rings.
Kobe, thank you for the years of amazement and thank you for sparking my love for the game.