24/7-365. Basketball Lives Here.
December 21, 2014 – Lakers vs Kings at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Ca. Probably the roughest game Kobe Bryant has had in this past year. He went 8-of-30 from the field (26 percent) and had 9 turnovers in a clutch loss to a Kings team that just like his Lakers squad, was going nowhere that season
As a lifelong Kobe fan as much as it hurt to accept it, I knew it was coming to an end.
It’s not always the athlete or artist or song that moves us and attaches you to their name or brand, it’s more so the attachment we develop with the time period that the figure was at it’s best. It’s the reason someone who grew up in the 80’s and attended high school in the 90’s will forever be attached to Michael Jordan’s greatness and till the day they die will never put anyone above him when it comes to the game of basketball. Jordan represents the greatest period of those peoples lives (childhood), before that person entered the real world (work, responsibilities etc..) he was their everything, he was the dude they looked up to, he was like a God to them and because of that they wouldn’t dare turn on him. LeBron James could win eight straight championships and average a 25-point triple-double to close out his career, but to those 80’s babies Jordan will forever be the undisputed G.O.A.T.
That’s how someone who was born in the 90’s and went to high school in the 2000’s will always feel when it comes to Kobe Bryant. He is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest player of my (our) era. Shit, there are people from our era who will even put him over Mike, with a straight face. Whether it’s true or not, that’s just how it is.
After that Kings game, the Lakers locker room was clearing out and media had surrounded Kobe’s locker for his post-game comments. He had us waiting for at least 30 minutes. My guess was he was getting his aching body treated during that time.
People love to talk a lot of shit about the shot attempts and all that, but somebody who has played the game will be the first to tell you that you have to be GOOD ENOUGH to actually have the green light to take those shots. You have to have proven yourself in practices and more importantly in games time and time again to have that luxury.
Give any NBA player the green light to shoot 30 respectable shots in a game in which an opposing teams scouting report is centered around them, where defenders come in having studied your every move and see if that player can even get 10 shots off. It’s not easy to do and it can take a lot out of a player. Kobe will get wheel chaired out of an arena before he changes his game up for his critics, so having to ice a little longer won’t bother him one bit.
Eventually it started to completely clear out at one point with some reporters getting tired of waiting around for Kobe. Really, to them there was no “story” left besides the fact that he wasn’t the same player he once was and at that point, even that was a played out story.
With about ten minutes before locker rooms closed, Bryant finally he walked in. He was roasted. There were bags under his eyes and he was limping to his locker, which was probably just six feet away from the trainers’ room. A little disinterested, annoyed and burnt out from this process. The same questions from a different reporter, in a different arena night after night. Here we go again. It’s been 19 years at that point.
I knew that night that the end was near. This is as good as it gets for a 90’s kid. That aura. Something only a 90’s kid could understand. That was Kobe Bryant, the Michael Jordan of our era looking right at you, noticing the clear difference between you and the other six people standing around him and quietly whispering “Whatsup” before he put his game face on for these questions.
The half-hour prior to him showing up for his post-game questions all I heard was how he wouldn’t talk much and wouldn’t be that vocal because he’s “upset” about the loss. I had a feeling they were wrong. Dude knew at that point more than anyone that it was already over. Though he’ll never admit it, he knew that game didn’t mean shit. This little run was strictly for the love of the game and if he re-discovered his stroke in the process he would give it all he had in order to silence his doubters (he loved doing that) for like the 300th time in his career. The truth was Bryant was just trying to chill at this point and play the game he loves, the way he wants but at that point you got the feeling that he couldn’t even do that properly and he was starting to realize it. You could tell by the look on his face.
He did his thing, answered those same old questions and everyone began leaving. I stuck around for as long as I could though.
I’ve never been one to be star-struck in situations where I’m working on something with the OG players that I once idolized as a child, but I always make sure to appreciate moments like the one below.
Kobe (smiling): “What’s good man? Your young” as he shakes my hand.
Me: “I’m 21 man, 90’s kid, grew up on your greatness”
His eyes lit up, but he looked kind of surprised. It was like that dark cloud of negativity that was over him for the last ten minutes was gone. Other “reporters” that knew they may not have seen him again that season or ever again stuck around as well, but all eventually left as we started talking.
At that point in our interaction Kobe was probably realizing how much of an impact he had on kids like me and at the same time how old he was really getting. He was nice, he kept the convo going because he could tell it meant something to this kid.
Kobe: “That’s whatsup man, thank you! Did you say 21 though (shocked)…damn”
Kobe: Points to my pass, “This your thing?” (Ball Don’t Stop)
Me: “Dude, you were a two-time All-Star and an NBA Champion at the age of 21, this ain’t shit”
Kobe: Laughs, “Fair enough! “Keep grinding my man”
We walked out of the locker room together which was completely empty at that point and I continued asking some random basketball questions as he walked over to his SUV. We also had a little back and forth about the AAU system, which he is not a big fan of at all.
We said a few words, shook hands again and he left.
At this point I began packing my bags up, making some calls and getting ready to rush to the airport. Shortly after getting in a cab, it hit me. I just had a pretty meaningful conversation with Kobe Bryant, the guy my friends and me and other kids all over the world from my era grew up idolizing.
I will be the first to tell people that these guys are humans just like us, they talk, eat and do regular people stuff just like us so the actual conversation didn’t hit me as hard as the realization of the time that had passed. It took me WAY back to when I first started watching basketball.
I remember it like it was yesterday. A tall guy with an afro donning #8 for the yellow and purple team. Cocky, athletic, extremely talented, young Kobe was so fun to watch. He reminded me of The Rock from Monday Night Raw. This guy was a true character, but he was himself. He had a swagger and charisma to his game, at that time only his big teammate; the dunker from Toronto and that little guy with the cornrows from the Sixers had it like he did.
The ruthless-aggression. The savagery. He was a killer. He was raw. He had a pittbull in him. When he was on the court he had no-mercy whatsoever. This guy was out to silence opposing and sometimes even home crowds, he was out there to assassinate dudes and rip the soul out of anyone else that came in his way. There was a fire that burnt inside him and you could see it and feel it. No player has ever given that type of passion to the game and it’s fans since Jordan.
You could feel it from your damn T.V! That’s how real it was.
I remember when we’d get hyped about other stars like Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and debate for days and days about who was the top dog in the game and then Kobe would humble them all one-by-one and be the last man standing. A 90’s kid who loved the game more than likely remembers the 3-peat, in which Kobe was always the most exciting dude to watch.
We remember him getting better every single year and just becoming a monster of a player that would electrify arenas all over the world. We remember everyone hating/loving him to death. The purple jersey was a fresh look too. His fadeaway, his dunks and how could we forget those incredible jumpers at the end of the shot clock with two defenders draped all over him. The game-winners and the championships, the 40-point games, the 50-point games, the 60-point games, that 81-point explosion and all those 30 point games that almost always felt like they were 60 point games too.
This guy is the best thing that happened to basketball since Michael Jordan.
I remember around the mid 00’s, the dude became public enemy number one. He was hated on, judged and destroyed by the media. His own teammates and coaches didn’t like him. But he overcame that just like every other obstacle that came in his way. It fuelled him.
Kobe didn’t just overcome things, he conqured them.
When Shaq left for Miami and he was alone in L.A. we witnessed what is in my opinion the closest thing to the PERFECT basketball player. It wasn’t because he averaged 35 a game or went off for 50 every other night like it was nothing. As far as his game was going, everything had come together. Those gruelling 6-hour training days in the offseason were all adding up. We didn’t realize it then but if you look back at the tape now, you’ll agree that Kobe in 05-08 was the closest thing to the perfect basketball player.
From 2005-2008, Bryant was at the peak of his abilities. He was literally unstoppable and he did whatever he wanted on the court. His jumper was wet. You couldn’t leave him open (Steph Curry), he was as explosive as ever off the dribble, he was as strong as a bull, he was a lockdown defender, if they guarded him close he’d blow by them and finish at the rim and if they sagged off even an inch he’d knock it down. Bryant is responsible for Mark Jackson’s legendary “hand down, man down” call on ESPN. Bean was cold-blooded in the clutch at this point and he didn’t smile much on the court either, which made him even scarier for the opposition, and that much more exciting to watch for fans.
An untamed desire to win combined with a killer-instinct that we haven’t seen in many professional athletes, ever.
This is the time period most 90’s kids were either going into high school or coming out of it. YouTube was just blowing up, and we didn’t have the ability to touch our phones and communicate with ten people at once. It was also the time in which everything felt so natural. Though it was on it’s last leg at the time, hip-hop was still dope too.
It was a special time and when it came to basketball, it was Kobe’s world and we were all just living in it.
This is when Lil Wayne, who at the time was the one of the biggest rap stars in the game was making songs about him.
You could see how hard this guy worked just from the way he played. He eventually became so good that even his haters would become his biggest fans. Think about that. He got so dominant that he literally converted die-hard Kobe haters into die-hard Kobe fans.
In today’s society it is extremely hard to change an entire perception people have of you, especially having gone through some of the things Kobe was going through at the time. His play had reached such a beastly level that people who once dogged on him were now fans and standing up for him.
LeBron James has still not been able to achieve Kobe type respect and he’s 13 years into his career. He also hasn’t fully recovered his image from “The Decision” nightmare in which the whole basketball world seemed to have turned on him. It’s very hard to do.
Eventually the 90’s kids that grew up on Kobe started getting drafted to the NBA. All these players could talk about was his greatness. The Kevin Durant’s, Damian Lillard’s, DeMar DeRozan’s and James Harden’s of the world, the guys who came into the league after 05-06 were in awe of this man’s greatness and he impacted them just like he did every other hoops fan or player who grew up in the 90’s.
To this day, every single star that we’ve spoken to from the “Kobe Era” refers to him as the greatest player of their generation and some confidently call him the greatest of all-time.
They’re from that time period. Where rolling up a paper ball and throwing it in the garbage can in class was referred to as “Kobe!”. The stars of today’s NBA were also amazed at Bryant’s innate ability to make shots. Nobody created a shot better than Bryant, ever. Nobody took a game over better than the Mamba, ever. Nobody wanted it more than Kobe Bryant, ever.
That era of kids wasn’t distracted by social media like today generation. We didn’t spend our Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings scrolling through our Instagram and texting friends while Kobe Bryant played on national TV. We were locked in for the full 48 minutes waiting on his every move and just admiring his greatness.
When it comes to an eye test, an argument can be made that Bryant is the greatest player to ever play the game.
Put 10 players in a room from Bryant’s era and 10 from today’s era and read that statement to them. Almost all of them will agree. Nobody else’s opinion will and should matter.
Allen Iverson once told me it will always be about what your peers think when it comest to your legacy, not what a dude in a suit who has never played the game or simply gets payed to “talk about” basketball says. Kobe echoed the same statement in our short on-camera interview before we began talking.
This piece isn’t even about Bryant’s resume. The guy could have retired on top of the basketball world in 2010 after winning his fifth championship and his legacy would have been sealed as the greatest player of his era and the most dominant force in NBA history since Michael Jordan. Say what you want, but anyone that has watched or played this game will tell you Shaq and Tim Duncan weren’t relied on nearly as much to carry their teams to wins.
This guy is the ultimate winner. He is the ultimate competitor. He is the ultimate worker. He came in as a young kid and for some reason fans hated him with a passion. He leaves the game with fans passionately loving and admiring him for his greatness, his accomplishments, his mentality, his fire, his desire and his longevity.
There will be a time and place to discuss Kobe’s legacy more in-depth, but if you took away the numbers and all the accolades and basketball was just about wins and losses, but everyone played the same way they do and have throughout their careers then Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are neck and neck as the two best players to have ever played the game.
On paper his career isn’t perfect like MJ’s, but his skill-set and ability is right there.
He played eight more games after that Sacramento game before suffering that shoulder injury which basically put the nail in the coffin to one of the greatest careers in NBA history. After recovering the injury, it seems like Bryant winged the offseason, basically meaning he lost the desire to train like he usually does.
His legs aren’t there anymore, his core strength is gone and he has pretty much confirmed all of this in his retirement announcement. But it doesn’t even matter. Nobody is going to be talking about his final season five years from now. We’re going to remember the big games, the championships, the electrifying dunks and those incredible shots he would hit that would have crowds buzzing.
There will be a time and place to discuss numbers and rankings and we’ll be the first to give you an in-depth look at some of his greatest moments for the next couple of months, but for now all we can do is appreciate these last few months of his career and try to cherish these memories as much as possible.
Some day all these 90’s kids will get to tell their grandkids about this legend and it will always take us back to that golden era and one name will come to mind.
Kobe Bryant: The Greatest of Our Time
By: Ekam Nagra