I just turned 40 years old on January 17th. Since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant on Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on my four decades of living and the incredible impact that sports have played in my life.
Growing up in Detroit I played a lot of great basketball as a kid and I was inspired by my late Grandfather and the many legendary ballers that emerged from my hometown. Grandad was a legend in his own right and as a kid, because he lived in California, I became a Lakers fan.
Then when I got to Detroit Pershing High School there was a kid, Kevin Garnett, who was unable to pass the college test but the NBA allowed him to test the waters of the NBA.
Jordan 2.0 Is Born
I remember one day watching ESPN and there was a press conference and there was a kid named Kobe Bryant, who was entering the NBA Draft. He had the test scores. He had the grades. He had a two-parent family structure to do anything he wanted. He spoke several languages and didn’t fit the stereotypical hardship high school to pros case.
He simply said, “I’m going to the NBA. I believe I’m that good.”
I remember when he got drafted to the Lakers, Shaq came to LA that summer as well from Orlando. I was a huge Allen Iverson fan as well. It was Iverson’s league at first because he was older than Kobe and Kobe was a young, brash kid playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal and a lot of Michael Jordan fans had a hard time embracing Kobe because Kobe was the kid that we all aspired to be.
We all were in our backyards, gyms, high schools, and rec centers, dreaming of becoming the next Michael Jordan and being that guy to go head-to-head and look eye-to-eye with Mike.
Kobe Bryant was the first.
Nothing against Harold Miner, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and the rest, but when you watched Kobe it’s like your affection for Kobe was undeniable because of his grit, grind and work ethic. What he wanted to accomplish was so similar to Michael Jordan that he became breathtaking.
His coming-out party was in the Conference Finals against Portland when he led the Lakers in points, rebounds, blocked shots and assists in Game 7. He was clearly the best player on the floor at 21 years old and you knew he was coming.
People weren’t ready because we were just two years removed from Jordan’s retirement and his impact and reverence were still at a peak.
Then, Kobe put his stamp on the NBA in 2001 when he just annihilated the San Antonio Spurs who had the best record in basketball and everyone thought the Spurs were going to win because Tim Duncan didn’t play in the playoffs in 2000.
But Kobe and the Lakers would go on to win three championships.
Mamba Mentality Is Born
Then obviously some things happened in LA with Kobe and Shaq. Shaq eventually left for Miami in 2004, shortly after Kobe’s infamous alleged rape incident in Colorado in ‘03.
It was his moment of truth. When he would either lay down or get down. Kobe took off.
When I think of Kobe I think of his competitiveness. I think of the contracts and money that were being given to NBA athletes who were also accused of not being committed to excellence.
In the midst of the biggest challenge of his life from a personal and professional standpoint, the man was being annihilated in the media, dealing with possible jail time and he was still getting off private jets coming from court and hitting game-winning shots.
That represented Kobe Bryant’s competitive nature more than anything in my eyes. And the barbershop conversations started to heat up:
Is Kobe better than Shaq? Is Kobe better than Jordan? Is he one of the all-time greats? Is Kobe a ball hog?
Kobe fans always had to defend his rightful place in history, which the mainstream media tried to erase by boosting LeBron to Kobe’s level.
That created so much drama for me because I went from defending him to the friends I made on social media, to creating enemies on social media based on debating about Kobe and Lebron.
Then the arguments slowly became Kobe vs. MJ and then Lebron was added to the mix. There were all of these different opinions. A lot of them were based on things that had nothing to do with hoops
I had a relationship with FS1 sports guy Rob Parker who grew up in the MJ Era and I was telling him every day, Kobe is just as good as Jordan.
Then my relationship with Stephen A. Smith grew and ironically Stephen A. introduced me and my sports talk acumen to the world when he and Skip Bayliss were arguing about who is better Tim Duncan or Kobe.
So Kobe was fighting battles through the national media, households and barbershop beef and it was an ongoing thing.
It would get so intense when Stephen A. Smith or Rob Parker were having these debates on TV that I would text them and ask, “What about Kobe?”
I would text them his stats and other supporting arguments to make sure he was relevant in those GOAT comparisons. He definitely deserved it.
Kobe Died. Kobe Died?? Kobe Died !!
I’m in Los Angeles walking around Westwood UCLA campus and I’m on the phone with one of my friends who played in the NBA and is in Australia right now.
He told me he got a call that Kobe had died in a helicopter accident. I looked at my phone as I saw the TMZ report and I instantly saw fans and people all around start crying.
You had people at the Stop sign rolling down their car windows saying, “Kobe died, Kobe died.”
It touched my soul. As an iconic, young, figure with so much to live for and how he was so inspiring, all I could think of — as a true sports fan — was the passing of the torch that is reserved for legends.
How MJ mentored Kobe. And then when Kobe retired, similar to Mike, he ended up being a mentor for LeBron and KD, when he was just a few years removed from the NBA.
It wasn’t just the established superstars in The League. Young up and coming greats like Melo Ball and Emani Bates who have “The Dream”, worked out with Kobe in the summertime and were looking forward to being in the Mamba Sports Academy so Kobe could teach them the nuances of the game. He was just that brilliant of a man.
I was able to live through the entire career of Kobe Bryant. I was only 2 when MJ hit the game-winning shot against Georgetown for UNC in the NCAA Championship.
So I didn’t feel it. I was just born when Magic beat Philadelphia. So I didn’t feel it.
But I watched Kobe from the beginning to the end and from a childhood perspective, he will forever be remembered as my GOAT.