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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Dear Kobe: A final farewell to my idol

Everything he did in the uniform and for the sport of basketball will never be forgotten

“Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.” — Kobe Bryant

It’s hard to put into words the thoughts that are going through my head, as I don’t seem to know what to say. I still can’t comprehend it. When you grow up idolizing athletes, they become larger than life — almost immortal. It’s times like these when you sit back and realize that the cruel reality of life carries no exceptions. 

I grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, and I discovered the game of basketball when I was eight years old. My earliest memory was watching the 2008 NBA Finals where the Lakers competed against the Boston Celtics. I was too new to the sport and too young to fully comprehend what was going on. After that series, my dad began to teach me how to play, and we would watch the Lakers together as I learned the beautiful game. 

Every other night, I would watch the likes of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher take the court in that pristine purple and gold. But there was always one player who stood out the most: a player who seemed like nothing could discourage him, a player who played every game like it was his last and, most importantly, a player who wanted nothing more than to win. He wore the number 24, and his name was Kobe Bryant.

Residents of the City of Los Angeles watched this 17-year-old from Lower Merion High School in a suburb of Philadelphia grow right before their very eyes. From the four crucial airballs he put up in an elimination playoff game his rookie year to the three-peat dynasty of the early 2000s and the back-to-back championships of 2009-2010, he was there. Since he was drafted, then subsequently traded to the Lakers in 1996, Bryant became Los Angeles’ own and, eventually, he became Los Angeles. From the biggest basketball fans to those who didn’t even know where the Lakers played, everyone knew Kobe Bryant. 

In his 20-year NBA career, he was an 18-time All-Star, a five-time champion, a two-time Finals MVP and a one-time league MVP. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive team 12 times, the all-NBA team 15 times and was a regular-season scoring champion. Bryant currently sits fourth on the NBA all-time leading scorers list. His accomplishments off the court post-career were just as impressive, as he expressed his creative side with his short film Dear Basketball, which won an Oscar in 2017. 

Everything he did in the uniform and for the sport of basketball will never be forgotten by those who saw him, loved him and hated him because he stayed through everything. Whether it was the championship seasons or the 17-win seasons, he was there and he was Kobe Bryant. In a franchise filled with all-time greats, he was the greatest. And in a city filled with stars, he was the brightest. 

After the Lakers’ 2009 NBA Finals win over the Orlando Magic, I received my first ever Kobe Bryant jersey. It was a gold Adidas jersey with the number 24 on the back. I don’t remember ever being that excited about anything before. I would put on the jersey and act as if I was Kobe himself, acting out late-game scenarios where he hit a game-winning shot on a small hoop I had behind my front door. The iconic fadeaway, the runner in the lane and his smooth jump shot were what I strived to imitate because I wanted to be like him. I remember the euphoria outside my apartment building when the Lakers beat their rival, the Celtics, in the 2010 NBA Finals. Fireworks, cheering and honking filled the night air. It was a celebration and a feeling I’ll never forget. 

His final game — and final season to be quite honest — was something basketball fans may never see again. The Lakers won a franchise-low 17 games in the 2015-16 season, but you would have never known it by how many people showed up to Staples Center on Apr. 13. 

In the final game of his career, Bryant scored 60 points en route to a comeback win over the Utah Jazz. It was something so magical that it would be nearly impossible to recreate. The atmosphere inside Staples Center had you believing it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. In reality, it was a match-up between one of the worst teams in the league and a team that just missed out on the playoffs. But for the City of Los Angeles and Laker fans everywhere, this meant everything. Their icon would step on the hardwood one last time before calling it a career. That magical night will live forever in the history of the NBA. 

On the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. Bryant was 41. 

How could someone so iconic be gone just like that? It’s a question that will never make sense. But, it happened. For people like myself, other fans of the NBA and the people of Los Angeles, it felt like a piece of them was gone as well. 

On the outside looking in, it may be hard to comprehend how one athlete can affect so many people. There were tears shed, tributes posted and memorials built outside of the Lakers’ home arena. As crazy as it sounds, Kobe shaped my life in a way I can never fully explain. Watching him is the reason I fell in love with the sport of basketball, the reason I love the Lakers and the reason why I’m so passionate about the things I am today. For someone who grew up a fan in Los Angeles, Kobe was, and still is, the Lakers. 

Sports is something that brings people of all different backgrounds together — no matter what hardships are going on in your life, you can always count on sports to be there to get your mind off things, at least for a couple of hours. Kobe transcended the game of basketball and it is understandable why this tragedy is causing those affected by it to reflect on life and how fragile it really is for everyone. 

In life, there’s one appointment you can’t cancel. For Kobe, his came less than four years after he played in his final NBA game. As tragic as it was, his legacy will be passed on for generations and he will never be forgotten. His drive for being the greatest ever outweighed whatever hardships he encountered and, for fans like myself, it is one of the biggest parts of his legacy that we will remember for the rest of our lives. 

His tragic passing shook the whole world and should serve as a reminder to live now and not wait until tomorrow, because you never know when it’s your time. There are no guarantees in life, so we have to make sure to keep moving forward, work hard and, maybe one day, we can be idolized as well. 

I never had the pleasure of meeting Kobe Bryant. His impact on me was indirect, but I will never forget the memories he created for me. If I ever had the opportunity to tell him anything, I would simply say thank you. I could never fully explain why I feel the way that I do or why it means so much to everyone, but that’s the beautiful thing about it.

So thank you, Kobe. Until next time.

Rest in Paradise, Kobe Bean Bryant.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org



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