A basketball bomb was dropped this week, one that has left the basketball community with mixed emotions. The Lord of the Rings, the Black Mamba, Vino, Mr. 81, King Kobra, The Untouchable, has finally been touched by the one opponent that will always overcome the human race – age. Kobe Bryant, after 20 seasons in the NBA, has finally announced his retirement. His announcement came in the form of a poem entitled “Dear Basketball”:
Check it out here-> http://www.theplayerstribune.com/dear-basketball/
I remember when I first read about Kobe Bryant in Slam magazine. If you have never read or don’t know about Slam magazine, then you need to get up to speed on your basketball culture. It’s the baller’s bible on hoop culture. I remember asking myself, “who is this creature who dared to challenge the throne of Michael Jordan?” I worshipped Jordan as a teenager while starting to truly fall in love with the game of basketball. At that point I dismissed Bryant simply because of his blasphemy and turned a blind eye to any news about him.
But when the stats became too hard to ignore, the stories of his work ethic too difficult not to be inspired by, his attitude too arrogant not have an opinion about…I started paying attention. I never have been a Lakers fan and probably never will be (Celtics for life!) but as I grew in my understanding of basketball as a player, I could not help BUT become a Kobe fan.
Here was a man of regular sized physique – not some demi-god like Lebron James – who using his wits, and willingness to adapt to his surroundings, had propelled himself into the hearts of every basketball player as a man destined to be a legend. Which baller doesn’t remember when Kobe dropped 81 points against the Raptors in 2006? Or hey, can we talk about that time Kobe decided to work out at 4 am and spend the next 7 hours in the gym before practice with Team USA for the Olympics? The stories are endless, so crazy that you start to question their source. Kobe rose to mythical status.
And then he tore his Achilles. I mean it was just one of the many injuries he’s sustained in his career and even now, the way he responds to injuries has always been part of the folklore of the NBA legend that is Kobe Bryant. But it was different this time. Recovery lagged. The subsequent injuries were just as serious and he finally succumbed. “The mind is willing, the body is weak” may be a cliché but what better way to describe his desire to push on but his physical incapability to do so.
Not much more can be said here. I’m sad about his retirement yes, but also happy that I witnessed a true basketball legend in real time. He can walk off the court for the last time this season with his head held high knowing that has stamped the NBA with an inexorably truth -“Kobe was here”. At the end the of the day, it’s the legacy left behind that truly matters and his will be one that will never die. Our children will speak of him the way we whisper the names of the greats of the day – like, Wilt the Stilt, Magic, and Larry Bird – and we will be able to say that we witnessed first-hand the basketball anomaly that is and always will be, The Black Mamba.