Across the playground, at recess, more of my classmates had purple and gold #8 jerseys than Knicks gear, despite growing up in Long Island, New York.
You didn’t have to be from Los Angeles to be a fan of Kobe Bryant; you just had to love the game of basketball. For the past 20 years, Kobe Bryant has been a mainstay within the sport whether you root for him or against him. Although his longevity alone makes it difficult for any true fan to do the latter.
I fell in love with basketball at some point during the late 90s. I remember scenes of Jordan’s last two rings -- from his second trifecta; I can remember my dad (physically) hoisting me out of bed in 1999 to watch Larry Johnson cap off his iconic four-point play with my own two eyes. It all feels like yesterday.
By the time Jordan returned to the league, again, in 2002 -- this time, to an unfamiliar jersey -- I had already witnessed the league undergo a makeover. The baton had been passed in his absence, and MJ no longer found himself to be the most dominant player in the league.
At this point, a different 6’6” two-guard with a nose for the basket was en route to his own back-to-back-to-back title run, and league supremacy, in the process: a player named Kobe Bryant. Over the course of his career, “Kobe,” alone, became one of the most unmistakable names in all of sports.
For the majority of Generation Y, Kobe signified more than just a great player -- arguably one of the greatest of all time. He was a constant throughout a time in our lives when change was one of the only consistent factors.
Keep in mind that Kobe didn’t just play 20 years in the league -- he played 20 years in the league for the same team. That’s the type of loyalty and dedication that’s spoken about very often -- but seldom proven.
Although I’ll be 24 by the time Kobe plays his last game, Kobe Bryant will always represent a part of my childhood.
20 years. Two full decades. When I think of Kobe Bryant, I think of watching him play as a child alongside my dad -- and my late grandfather. I think back to fond times, gathering around the TV back in middle school, on a Friday night, to watch Kobe play with childhood friends -- ones that I’ve long fallen out of touch with.
Throughout all of the various phases of my childhood, Kobe seemed present for them -- funny as it may sound.
As he announced his retirement this past weekend, though I can’t say I didn’t see the writing on the wall, I couldn’t help but get sentimental over it. His exit from the league marked more than just the end of a great player’s career -- it also signified the end of an era for Millennials, too.
While I do remember “scenes” from Jordan’s “Golden Era” in the NBA in the late 90s, I didn’t fully understand it, at least at the time. I was too young.
I understood that Jordan was an amazing ball player, but I didn’t really feel the same attachment that I felt to Kobe growing up. Anyone who’s in their 20s right now has probably witnessed the better portion of Kobe’s entire career progress throughout the years. The same couldn’t be said for a player like Jordan.
Kobe was the player we idolized, growing up. Whenever my friends and I would play pickup basketball, as young kids, we’d all emulate Kobe’s mannerisms.
Whenever Kobe would hit a game-winner, you could best believe that someone in my group of friends was trying to imitate the exact shot, the following day at the park after school.
And as Kobe matured, we did, as well. Every few decades, an athlete comes around who’s bigger than sports, themselves. Kobe is one of those athletes. He is more than just a basketball player -- throughout his career, his name has become synonymous with greatness.
And while Kobe, himself, may be done playing in the league -- his influence will continue to live on. Countless players have expressed how much Kobe has meant to them -- as a person -- and as a player to mold their games after.
So as Kobe retires and lets go of playing sport he’s claimed his love for, I doubt his love for the game will diminish after his professional career has ended. It just goes to show that, at some point or another, all good things must come to an end.
Life is not about avoiding the finish line. It's about giving your all and making as much of an impact as possible while you're in the race.
Congrats to Kobe Bryant on a legendary career, I'm sure it won't be the last we see of him.