I wasn’t really a fan of Kobe.
When the Lakers got him in 1996, I remember initially thinking how cocky he seemed. Someone straight out of high school thinking he’s already a superstar.
I wasn’t impressed with the highlights. “What a show off,” I’d think. Not even when he won the Slam Dunk Contest in 1997. At that time I was marveling at what Michael Jordan was doing on his way to his second three-peat. Kobe was no where near that level.
Kobe? “He’s a ball hog.” “He’s just a scorer.” “He can’t carry the Lakers.” “He’s no MJ.” I mostly kept it to myself since I didn’t want to start an argument, but these were what I was thinking.
Yes, looking back, I would probably have been called a “hater” during that time. (That second Adidas signature shoe didn’t help, by the way).
And then as the years went by things changed. Kobe turned them around. He started passing. He started making his teammates better. He was still no GOAT in my book, but he’s definitely improving. I still wasn’t a fan, but I was starting to “hate” him less. I was also acknowledging how good he actually was already.
It was around the middle of his career when I started being a fan. He got this Black Mamba thing going. He’s playing even better. But more importantly, at least for me, he was becoming a good role model.
All those stories about how hard he was working to be the best there was in what he was doing. Those were inspiring. There were probably better athletes than him, but he made up for it with determination. When people said he couldn’t win a ring without Shaq? He proved he could.
And when his body couldn’t keep up anymore, he didn’t stop. He played through broken finger. He tried things to allow him to go on (like that knee treatment he got in Germany). At first I couldn’t understand why he’d go through all that. At that point, he already got his rings, his MVP, and he had already cemented his legacy. But no, he still wasn’t done.
I could remember watching video clips of him making those free throws to tie the game after tearing his achilles. Despite not playing the finals minutes of that game, he willed the team to victory that day. He willed the Lakers to the playoffs that season.
By the time he retired in 2016, I was already a big fan (I was a fan of his Nike signature shoes too.) Getting 60 points in his last time was a very Kobe way to end his NBA career. Coming back from that achilles injury was already something, but to go out on your last game to get 50 and the victory? He kept proving people wrong and he kept achieving things that seemed impossible by working really hard to get them.
And after he stepped away from the game, he went and got himself an Oscar.
Kobe showed me how far hard work can take you. He made me realize how much one can do with enough drive; with that Mamba Mentality.
And he showed me that we can change, but at the same time we can also keep doing things our way.
“If you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.” – Vanessa Bryant, quoting her husband, Kobe Bryant, during the latter’s induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
// by Francis Abad