206) A Letter to Kobe
I never met you.
You were my first idol growing up. Because I wasn't born yet when Michael Jordan played in 1984.
You were the reason my 9-year-old self started watching, playing, and loving basketball.
I found out about you from my sister. She turned on the TV. We saw you wearing your Los Angeles Laker uniform.
You introduced me to the game.
You made a steal. You were off to the races with a 360 dunk.
My 9-year-old self had never seen anything like it before in my own eyes. It was my first time to witness a slam-dunk.
You were spectacular. You were unpredictable. You always had something in-store for me and your fans. Everything you did on the court was an art.
You gave me many "oooohs" and "awwws."
You were a young phenom coming out of high school in 1996.
None of my peers liked you. Everyone loved Jordan. No fans wanted you copying Jordan. Fans were protecting their one and only idol. They weren't true fans to the game. Because they weren't respecting greatness.
NBA grows and evolves when you copy and follow your idol's footsteps. It gives motivation and inspiration.
I have nothing against Jordan. You were the closest player to Jordan. He was your idol. No Jordan, no you.
I remembered your all-time starting five was Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
I started watching, playing, and loving basketball right when you came to play in the NBA. The timing was on point.
You showed me your turnaround fade-away jumper.
You made me learn to work on my footwork more than my handle.
You weren't in the starting lineup for your first two seasons.
You kept fighting and working hard throughout your career and life. You were always resilient and persistent. You were always hungry to learn more.
You barely played as a rookie.
You first played against your idol Jordan on December 17, 1997. You weren't scared at all. You embraced the challenge. You scored 33 points. Your idol tallied 36 points.
During the 1997 NBA playoffs, you air-balled 4 shots in game 5 against the Utah Jazz. You were coming off the bench too. Your team lost the game, and the series. It didn't stop or phase you. Nothing did throughout your life.
It was impressive on how you kept firing away. My younger-self would be afraid to attempt another shot followed by an air ball.
You were the youngest player in NBA history to win the Slam Dunk Contest in 1997 at 18 years old, and participate in an NBA-All Star Game in 1998 at 19 years old.
On your fourth season, your teammate Eddie Jones was traded. It gave you more playing time to shine and perform.
I wanted to be like you.
My 13-year-old self saw you rocking a baby afro. I grew an afro too. I bought your Adidas Crazy One signature shoes when it was released in 2000.
My 8th grade basketball team loved Allen Iverson at the time. Our team shoes were his Reebok Question Lows. It didn't bother me. I still bought your shoes.
My mom didn't want me to be out of place. So she bought me the Iverson's. I only wore them on game days.
People would buy the Jordan's or Iverson's while I collected your Adidas and Nike signature shoes. I only bought one pair of Jordan shoes throughout my life. They were fake ones according to my friend. I bought them on eBay.
I was never into Jordan's or Iverson's compared to your shoes.
I owned your Adidas KB8, Adidas KB8 2, Adidas Crazy 1, Nike Zoom 1, Nike Zoom Kobe 2, Nike Zoom Kobe 3, Nike Zoom Kobe 6, and Nike Kobe 9 Elite.
You were what kept me improving my game every year. I was awarded Most Improved Player at the end of my 8th grade basketball season.
Whenever I had a bad day, I always looked forward to your games. You brought joy to me. I preferred watching your games than playing video games, watching movies, or anything else.
I recorded most of your games through VHS tapes at the time. I didn't want to miss anything special from you.
I witnessed your three-peat with Shaq. You guys won in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
Life came crashing down to me when I lost my sister on May 17, 2003. I was grieving and mourning. I was in denial and shock.
You couldn't help me at this time. I stopped watching basketball. I wasn't able to watch your team lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs.
I thought you were perfect until I heard from the news about you being accused of a sexual assault. Your case began a few months after the playoffs on July 2003.
I lost a sister. You broke my heart. I hated you. I looked at you as a villain. I was young. I couldn't handle what was going through my mind. I stopped watching basketball for a year.
I decided to watch basketball again when the 2004 playoffs began. I would just forget about your case. I continued watching you shine and perform on the basketball court.
You were going through a difficult time in your personal and basketball life. At this time you nicknamed yourself the "Black Mamba."
Mamba Mentality was introduced too.
"The particular name was chosen after Bryant saw Kill Bill, in which an assassin kills another character with a venomous snake," Tyler Brandt writes in his article, Mamba Mentality: The Mindset That Made Kobe Bryant a Master. "Bryant remarked on the nature of the snake's length, bite, strike, and temperament and was captivated by the way snakes shed their skin (A reference to growing out of his old self)."
I try applying and executing your Mamba Mentality every day. It's a challenge to use it as one of my lifestyle habits.
You were considered a "ball hog." It didn't bother you. You answered by scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006. I own your similar white home Laker's jersey on that game.
I've never seen anything like it before. You were scoring with ease. I'm glad I witnessed another historical moment from you.
You still remain the second highest NBA scoring in a single game behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points on March 2, 1962.
At the start of 2006-2007 season, you changed your jersey number from 8 to 24.
You made a change after your teammate Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. I supported you more than Shaq. I was happy the Lakers chose you over Shaq.
"24 is a growth," you said. "Physical attributes aren't there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater. Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest."
"It's a new book, 24 --24 is every day. Because when you get older, your muscles start getting sore. Body starts aching. You show up to practice that day, you have to remind yourself, 'OK, this day is the most important day. I got to push through this soreness. My angles are tight, they won't get loose. I got to go through it, because this is the most important day.' So, 24 also helped me from a motivational standpoint," you added.
Your worst lost in the Finals was against the Boston Celtics in 2008.
It motivated you more to help team USA win gold in the summer. Team USA needed you since they won bronze in 2004.
Critics thought you can never carry a team. They believed you need Shaquille O'Neal. You proved them wrong.
You were more hungrier to win a first championship without Shaq in 2009. You won another ring to get even with the Celtics in 2010.
You lifted team USA to win gold again in 2012.
I own your #10 blue team USA jersey.
Your biggest injury in your NBA career happened.
On your 17th NBA season, you tore your achilles on April 2013.
I was in a bit of tears as I watched you cried for the first time in front of the camera during your post-game interview. You weren't able to play in the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs. Your team lost.
You were resting, recovering, and rehabbing.
It went downhill from there. You were a machine. Lots of mileage worn and torn to shine and perform for me and your fans. The Lakers struggled with or without you every year.
You returned from your achilles injury on December 2013. Then you played only 6 games from suffering a season-ending knee injury. You came back playing on October 2014. You were sidelined for nine months to undergo a surgery on your torn right rotator cuff. You returned playing on October 2015.
You wrote a letter to The Players' Tribune on November 29, 2015 to announce you'll be retiring at the end of the season.
My friend and I watched your last game live on January 7, 2016 at Sacramento during your farewell season. You scored 28 points. It was also the last season for the Kings to play in their old arena (once called Arco Arena) where you and Shaq beat them in the playoffs.
I watched your last game on TV against the Utah Jazz. The Jazz were up most of the game. You found a way to beat them with 60 points. Of course. You did put on a show. You saved the best for last.
I loved the game so much. I loved it more when you played from 1996-2016. I still do to this day. But it's nothing compared to your playing days.
You beat Shaq in rings by one. You had 5. Shaq has 4 total. You did want to beat Jordan's 6 rings. You did pass Jordan on all-time scoring list.
You retired from basketball. You were the first player to retire both numbers, 8 and 24, with one team. You didn't stop from there.
You continued to write about your story after basketball.
Your body retired from basketball. Your mind continued to function and perform through your Mamba Mentality.
Your old age didn't stop you from learning more. You continued to ask and listen.
On February 2018, you and Shaq came at peace together behind the camera. You guys reconciled with each other. I was in tears. I was able to see it in a different lens between you and Shaq outside the court.
Both of you had one goal together. It was winning. 3 rings together did it.
You used your letter from The Players' Tribune by narrating it on your animated short film, Dear Basketball. You won an Oscar in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film on Sunday, March 4, 2018.
I read your book, The Mamba Mentality. It was published and released on October 23, 2018.
"The mindset isn't about seeking a result - it's more about the process of getting to that result," you wrote in your book. "It's about the journey and the approach. It's a way of life. I do think that it's important, in all endeavors, to have that mentality."
"What I mean by that is: if I wanted to implement something new into my game, I'd see it and try incorporating it immediately. I wasn't scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed," you wrote another passaged I liked in your book. "That's because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I'd have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that."
I enjoyed watching you break down on each player playing and performing on Detail. For instance, I liked the one with Stephen Curry. It reminded me of your younger days watching film with your offensive-minded assistant coach, Tex Winters.
I was watching you become a great father and husband. You were happy to be with your family more than ever before. You sacrificed and dedicated all your time from basketball for me and the world.
You wouldn't lecture. You preferred to teach your kids and everyone else by telling stories, showing examples, and giving words of encouragement.
For instance, you weren't for the kids fairytales. They weren't real. You looked for kids' stories about sports. You created The Punies podcast, and books about kids.
On January 24, 2020, I finished watching Novak Djokovic win his Australian Open match on TV. He was being interviewed about greatness. Then he opened up about you. He appreciated you as being his mentor, teacher, and friend through him struggling mentally, physically, and emotionally.
On January 25, I went to my favorite local brewery, Napa Smith. I watched LeBron James pass your all-time NBA scoring list. LeBron is 3rd. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone are ahead of him.
On January 26, I watched a podcast episode of you being interviewed by Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson at 10am.
After I finished watching it, I took a quick nap. I woke up. I saw text messages about you on my phone from my friend and cousin.
I turned on the TV. I flipped to ESPN channel. The news was about you. The headline reported, "Kobe at 41 dies from helicopter crash."
I couldn't believe it. I was in denial and shock. I was hoping it was fake news. If it was true, I hoped it was just you and the pilot. I was thinking you would find a way to get out. Because you are Kobe Bryant.
I couldn't process or function. I was with a friend too.
I needed time to be alone. I decided to go back to Napa Smith Brewery alone wearing your white home Laker jersey. On my way to the brewery, I cried in my car. I processed and reminisced.
I'm more saddened by your daughter's loss. I was looking forward to see more of her basketball game grow. She was already a mirror image of your game. You taught her well.
2 days after your death, Shaq honored and remembered you on NBA on TNT. Shaq's honesty and vulnerability made me cry.
You are the first person in my life who I had never met that has impacted, inspired, and touched my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood life. I'm going to get a tattoo of you. I'm not sure what tattoo I want, and where it'll be on my body.
"The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do," you once said.