Kobe Bryant and I are the same age (he also, coincidentally, shares a birthday with my older brother). Some 19 years ago when Kobe stood at a podium with his Oakley sunglasses propped up on his forehead to announce that he was taking his talents to the NBA, I too was transitioning to that next phase in my life and preparing to go away to college. After it was announced that this high school kid would be a Laker, I, naturally, took a great interest in his career.
In the nearly 19 years that Kobe has worn a Lakers’ jersey so much has occurred it’s nearly impossible to recount it all. Airballs in Utah, ridiculous shots in Portland on the last day of a season, a championship celebration in Orlando, a fractured hand, a hurt shoulder, a ruptured achilles…it all blends together like a desert landscape viewed through the window on a long car ride. I’d pick out one moment, but I don’t have a favorite uncle; my family is my family.
The new moments, though, act as a reminder. They jog the memory and turn history into today’s celebration, recreating the feeling from many years ago by rekindling the flames of past accomplishments. Especially when today’s acts truly are a culmination of what is, essentially, a life’s work.
We’ve known this moment was coming for some time. But actually watching it happen, for me at least, was still a tremendous moment. The combination of longevity and production needed to reach such heights astounds me. The fact that the guy who did it is that same guy who, as a kid, had those Oakley’s sitting on his forehead makes it that much more special.
Kobe will never quite be the player many want him to be. As his efficiency wanes, his personality shows more hard edges, and his team suffers more losses than wins another type of validation will come for that sect. And as the complexities of his game, leadership, and overall status as a player are pushed to the middle of the spotlight both sides of the argument will meet with loud voices and even louder arguments trying to get to the bottom of what it all means.
For me, though, there will be none of that. And there especially won’t be some long discussion about Michael Jordan, measuring sticks, and how achievements do or don’t stack up. Kobe is one of the greatest players I ever saw grace a basketball court. Where he falls in that discussion matters less to me than the fact that he is part of that conversation. Far from perfect, but a provider of more moments worth celebrating than not. And, really, what more could you ask for?
The man harnessed his skill through immeasurable work to achieve at a level I never would have expected. He did it his way, for better or for worse, and nearly two decades later is still out there giving it his all. And while many would have hoped for a different route, it’s hard to argue with the path traveled considering there really wasn’t a road map to follow.