A notification lit up my phone screen as I traveled back from my Thanksgiving break: Kobe Bryant is to retire after the 2015-2016 season. I knew it was coming, but when I read the words, it all became real—and sad.
I fell in love with the NBA as a seven-year-old boy, when the Memphis Grizzlies moved to town and the Lakers were the undisputed kings of the league in the midst of their third-straight championship season. Often viewed as a sidekick to the dominant Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant was an athletic, flashy, and polarizing player who seemed dispensable to the Lakers’ success.
After the luster of championships wore off for the Lakers, it became apparent that Kobe and Shaq could no longer coexist, and the Lakers chose to trade Shaquille to the Heat. For the next few seasons, the Lakers struggled to stay above .500 and saw Kobe chuck shots with a reckless abandon.
Somehow through these seasons I became more and more entranced with the nebulous superstar that Kobe was. Oftentimes in sports we see players mature on and off the court or field, but Kobe’s maturation is an anomaly. He transitioned from a player who was selfish, a bad teammate, and an even worse leader, to a veteran who led by example, outworked everyone, and saw his game gracefully age until his injuries these past few seasons.
Not only did Kobe prove to everyone that he was not a sidekick, he also showed the world that he was one of the best players of all time, as he won two more championships with O’Neal nowhere in sight.
The first NBA game that I ever attended was against the Lakers, and I will never forget the thrill of seeing Kobe, which stays with me even today despite his struggle to make fadeaway jumpshots in entirely meaningless games.
Kobe, as an NBA fan I thank you for all the joy you have brought to me and so many others. We will never forget you.