You are truly a legend of your own. To think that you would’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame this month doesn’t surprise me. What you’ve done for the game of basketball truly made a remarkable mark. Something that hasn’t been done since Michael Jordan was in the league. You truly have made your mark and the game. And, that mark was your legacy.
I want to walk through nostalgia lane as I pinpoint the various moments in your career. Some of these many people know already but some of these are my personal favorites as well.
Let’s start with the five NBA championship trophies.
The three-peat with Shaquille O’Neal was some of the most dominant performances in your young, uprising career. The 15-1 playoff record has yet to be broken by any other team let alone any of the Lakers’ teams after that 2001 championship run.
The last two championship runs with Pau Gasol and crew showed the world that you were still the most dominant player in the league. After that 2008 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics, you found a way to bounce back and bring the Lakers back to the Finals and win your fourth championship. But, four didn’t seem to please you. So, you took the Lakers back to the finals against the very team that defeated you and the Lakers two years prior. And, that was the most grueling series I’ve seen you endure, but you persevered and won in seven games. Now, you got your fifth championship.
Next, two of many memorable scoring performances during the regular season.
First, channelling my inner Bill MacDonald, the “81 POINT GAME!” on Jan. 22, 2006. The Lakers played against the Toronto Raptors and you took the game into your hands during the second half. Coming back from 18 points and single-handedly scoring 56 second-half points. This game was no doubt the best scoring performance in your 20-year career. Thus, the Black Mamba was born along with the Mamba mentality.
But, none of the many games you played in could beat your final hoorah. Again, channeling my inner Bill MacDonald, “A 60 point game!” at the age of 38. Who would’ve ever thought that at 38 years old you would go out and score 60 in your final game. I was both surprised and not surprised at the same time. I was surprised because no other player current or past had scored 60 at your age or even past your age. Jordan didn’t even have that kind of performance in his last game. But, I wasn’t surprised for one simple reason: In the words of Stu Lantz, “He was legendary before this game!”. When no one thought your team would win, you proved them wrong again.
Those are some of the memories everybody knows. But, here are some of my favorite memories of you.
First, the playoff game against the Phoenix Suns on April 30, 2006. Oh, how fun you must’ve felt in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Smush Parker stole the ball from Steve Nash’s hands and got the ball to you. You passed the ball to Devean George and got the ball back to send the game to overtime. And, in overtime is where you shine the best. With just six seconds left, Nash and Luke Walton were at center court for a tip-off and the ball found its way into your hands. And, you ran to the right elbow and pulled up in front of two defenders to hit the game-winning shot. I will never forget how much joy and excitement I felt that day. After that game, you became my favorite basketball player of all time.
Next, is another buzzer-beater but this one happened on Dec. 10, 2009, against the Miami Heat. The game was close in the final five minutes of that game and with 3.2 seconds left you shot an off-balanced three-point shot over Dwayne Wade. The difficulty of that shot is what made that shot that much sweeter.
But, my most favorite memory of you was watching you live on Oct. 28, 2005 at the Thomas & Mack Center in my hometown of Las Vegas, NV. You helped lead the Lakers back into the game scoring 24 points winning the game 105-103. I was just happy I had the chance to see you play live once during my lifetime. That day is one of the best days of my life and one that I’ll never forget. The ride to the Mack while wearing your number eight jersey on my chest. The pictures I still have don’t do the experience I had justice.
No one player or athlete can match your work ethic and passion for the game and sports in general. You brought an attitude and mindset to the game of basketball that hasn’t been seen before. You were willing to take the big shots even if you failed to make it in. The media never got to your head and yet you used them as fuel to add to the fire that grew inside you. You are the embodiment of what true greatness looks like and for that, I thank you for showing the world your talent.
However, whatever you did on the court doesn’t beat what you meant to your family and fans off the court. You were a philanthropist and a loving husband that continues to inspire others even when your body isn’t here. Your short animation film Dear Basketball won an Academy Award. No other basketball player or athlete that I can think of has won a championship and an Academy Award in their lifetime. Only you accomplished that and that’s what makes you so unique.
You were a girl dad to four loving daughters including one who went with you into heaven, Gianna or Gigi or Mambacita. She was truly your daughter and wanted to become one of the greatest female basketball players that stepped onto the WNBA. Your respect for women’s sports helped build a reputation that sports aren’t just a man’s game but a woman’s as well.
I wrote this letter on Aug. 23 on what would’ve been your 42nd birthday but the world won’t get to see this letter until the day after on Mamba Day. Four years ago, I posted an Instagram post writing you a letter prior to your farewell game and it is still on my profile to this day. Seven months ago, on Jan. 26, I came home from work crying for as long as two straight hours. Two days after, I finally had the courage to speak out about your legacy and how much you meant to me.
I want to finish this letter off by saying these words: Thank you for everything you’ve done for the game. Without you, I wouldn’t have found my first love which is the game of basketball. I wouldn’t have found a passion in my life. My grandfather taught my brother and I the game, but you helped both of us see what determination looks like on the court. You taught me about the Mamba mentality and I wish that I would’ve used it when I was in middle and high school. And, because of you, I became a sports journalist in hopes of meeting and interviewing you one day. I will miss you always but I will make sure that the Mamba mentality lives on. Thank you, Kobe Bean Bryant.