I laughed when I saw the skinny 17-year-old put up an air ball in the playoffs versus the Utah Jazz, little did I know that laughter would turn into tears just a few years later when Kobe Bryant started lighting up the league.
As a Jamaican, I was sick to my stomach; every little boy was a Kobe fan in Jamaica. Me being a big NY Knicks fan, I was on pins and needles every time Kobe suited up against us. He played some of his best games at the Garden, always putting on a show in one of the most famous arenas in the world. He was relentless and unstoppable. He was the closest thing I’d seen to Mike with his sheer will and desire.
Kobe went by the nickname “Black Mamba”, a nickname he coined from a character from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. At the time he was going through some life altering struggles off the court, being accused of rape in 2003. Kobe thought that he needed to compartmentalize his life and adopted the “Black Mamba” persona on court, while Kobe Bryant dealt with his real life struggles. It was a fitting name considering how deadly the Black Mamba snake is. Kobe was stealthy, fast, aggressive and venomous on the court.
My hatred for him though, grew into admiration when I understood how much he worked at his craft. Kobe didn’t become great by chance, he practiced more than any other player he played against. He was unguardable. Lebron James recently said that he had no weakness offensively and that was putting it mildly.
Kobe could dribble, he’d blow by you if you got too close. His jump shot was pure, if you gave him too much space he could close his eyes and make the mid-range jump shot. He was clutch, he came up biggest when the game was on the line – much like Mike did. If you were too small he could take you in the post. Simply put, Kobe was an offensive juggernaut.
Coupled with his offensive arsenal, Kobe was an elite level defender. He had no issues guarding the opponent’s best player and shutting him down when it mattered most. It’s no surprise that he was selected First NBA All Defense 9 years in his 20-year career.
Not only was Kobe a great player on the court, he was also a great individual off the court. He supported countless charities and was regularly seen teaching the game to anyone who wanted to learn. The players in the league, a lot of them his former rivals, all spoke highly of the man; Kobe was a big brother to them.
LeBron, after passing Kobe on the NBA all-time scoring list for third place, recalled meeting Kobe as a 15-year-old “I believe I was playing (a high school game) in New Jersey and the All-Star Game, if I’m not mistaken, and you all can correct me, was in Philly,” James said. “That Saturday, me and Maverick (Carter) drove to the Intercontinental (hotel) in downtown Philadelphia, and he gave me a pair of his shoes which I ended up wearing that following night. It was the red, white and blue Kobes. I was a (size) 15 and he was a 14 and I wore them anyways.”
Kobe was a kind hearted human being, he exuded it in his appearance and demeanor. LeBron went on to say “I sat and just talked to him for a little bit. He gave me the shoes, and I rocked them in the game and it was the same night we played Oak Hill against ‘Melo (Anthony). Then, I saw what he was able to do the next night winning MVP here in Philly that following night.”
At 37 years old and recently returning from injury, Kobe announced he would retire at the end of the 2016 season, the league was saddened. In his final game that season and of his career, Kobe went out the same way he had become known. He put on an offensive masterclass, scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz; we were in awe, but we were not surprised. He’s one of the few athletes in the world that is known to all by his first name – Kobe.
As we mourn the loss of mamba, let us remember the smiles (and sadness in my case) he put on our faces in his playing career.
Written By: Jason McPherson