As I sit on my couch to watch Kobe Bryant play for the last time in a Lakers uniform, I can’t help but feel emotional. I don’t want it to end. It can’t end. I’ve been bleeding purple and yellow ever since I was a little kid. From the late nights yelling at the television, to the euphoria after winning a title, you gave me the best childhood a basketball fan could ever ask for. I’ll never forget sitting up in the nosebleeds at Madison Square Garden to watch you play for the first time, wearing my Lakers jersey while getting cursed and booed by Knicks fans.
I remember being so frustrated after the Lakers lost game 5 of the 2010 NBA Finals to the Celtics that I started punching my bed. A couple minutes later my mom walked in the room. She thought I was crazy. I was crazy. I couldn’t imagine another Finals loss, especially to Boston of all teams. But you didn’t let up. You posted 20+ points and 10+ rebounds in each of games 6 and 7 to win the NBA Finals. You saved the season. You saved my health.
You see, you changed the way I played the game. The late nights in the gym mimicking your every move. The shake and bake, step back three, as I shout, “3, 2, 1”. Pump faking three times pretending like there was a defender guarding me. Wanting to take the last shot of the game. Buying your newest pair of shoes. Picking the number 8 or 24 for every uniform I would get. It didn’t matter the sport, it was 8 or 24.
I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m not ready for you to leave and I’m sure many people feel the same. Except you. You’re ready. Your body is ready. Injury after injury, loss after loss, these past couple of seasons have been too hard. I can’t deal with the heartbreak. I know you can’t too. Enough is enough.
And so for the last time I’ll be able to watch the fade-away jumpers, the no-look passes, and chant “MVP” at every free throw attempt. I’ll always remember the buzzer-beaters, the one-handed dunks, and the championships.
However, the thing that I’ll remember the most is your mentality. The never give up mentality. The never satisfied mentality. You always saw room for improvement even during the best of times. Always learning. Always studying the game. Always wanting more. You were in the gym while everyone was partying.
I admired your passion and love for the game, but now that it’s gone my feelings too fade. So here’s to you, the final goodbye, and hoping you can turn back the clock just one final time.
Thank you, Kobe Bean Bryant.