“My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
These are my favorite words from Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” letter issued by the Players Tribune. These words encapsulate a remarkable career. A career filled with breathtaking highlights, emotional lows, and mountaintop highs.
As his jerseys have just been retired, I want to reflect on what Kobe meant to me, a young man who grew up watching every up and down of the Black Mamba’s career. A young man inspired and utterly mesmerized by the raw passion and sheer force of will Kobe played with. While what Kobe meant to me may not be relevant to some, I think what I will portray in these few words resonates with most people, every kid and every dreamer out there who wishes seeing something more significant than themselves take place. This article is going to attempt to relate into words the feelings of all of us who grew up yelling “Kobe” as we launched a paper into the trash can.
There are only a handful of times and instances in someone’s life when they seem to remember every detail of what happened. My first genuine and authentic Kobe memory came on such a day. It all started on an average Sunday. I was just a young kid flipping the channels hoping to find a game on. Seeing the Lakers and the Raptors game was starting soon, I turned it on. The look of raw determination on this stone-cold assassin’s face had this young kid giddy with excitement. As the points poured down in waves, I remember not saying a word. Brought to the point of speechlessness, I watched the Mamba out on a show unlike any in NBA history. Clutching the pillow of the couch to my chest I dared not utter a sound for risk of breaking the Mamba’s concentration.
Basket after basket, shot after shot, I sat in wonder at what was soon to be the greatest scoring performance of the modern era.
After the game was over and Kobe reigned supreme with an 81-point performance for the ages, I remember letting out a sigh filled with as much emotion imaginable. You see, this wasn’t just another game where you marvel at the success of a particular athlete and then move on. This was a game that changed lives, it motivated thousands and inspired every darn kid near a basketball. As soon as that game was over, I left my couch, grabbed a ball and went to work. At that moment, a young kid with a passion for the game of basketball fell in love with it.
April 13th, 2016. Flash forward to the final time this transcendent athlete gave his last ounce of the effort his body could offer. One last time to show everyone out there that when your body is quitting, when it seems too hard to trudge on, when you are at the point of throwing the towel, then that is when it’s time to turn it up and leap over the next hurdle. I couldn’t have asked for more. You see, April 13th is my birthday. All I wanted was to see the Mamba last heroic effort. Exceeding all of my wildest expectations he once again brought me back to being that young kid on his couch, soundlessly watching one of the best to ever do it merely giving everything he had to his one true love. We all know what happened next. No one will ever forget it. I won’t reflect on the game itself because to each of us the game is remembered differently.
Up until his last, the Mamba played with raw passion and emotional fire we see so rarely. It’s why the old legends respect him so much. He is the last of them. That is what the Mamba’s legacy is. It’s not the wins or the accolades. It’s not the game winners or the epic performances because all of that never happens without the emotions of the kid who fell in love with basketball coming out every game, every practice and every single workout. So next time you lean back and let a paper fly at the nearest trash can and yell Kobe, let out a fiery fist pump when you sink it. Think back to your first memory of the Mamba. The one who helped give you a nudge toward your true love. Basketball.