I'm not gonna lie. I've hated Kobe Bryant for most of his career. And that hate started pretty much from the beginning.
I've hated him since the first vivid memory I have of his Lakers blowing out Jordan's Bulls in '98. I hated him when N64 gave him his own video game that everyone with cool parents got to play.
I hated him when he denied Scottie Pippen one last trip to the finals in 2000. I hated him when he killed Allen Iverson's underdog story in the 2001 Finals and definitely hated him when he swept my New Jersey Nets in '02.
I hated the fact he and the Lakers just kept winning and did so even when it was clear they shouldn't have (*cough* Western Finals 2002 *cough*).
The hate subsided for a while when his team got worse in the mid-2000s, but it quickly returned in 2008 once everyone let their love for Kobe blind them from acknowledging Lebron James because #3Rings and #Clutch.
Once three rings became five in 2010, despite an ironically un-clutch performance from Kobe, insult was only added to injury.
If I sound salty, it's because I am. Like I said, I hate Kobe Bryant.
Or, I should say, hated, because there's not much sense in focusing energy on hating a player who is so far from the ruthless animal he used to be.
So when he announced his plans to retire at the end of this season, prompting the Mamba love fest to begin, I was a bit conflicted.
I mean, I respect him, obviously, which isn't really saying much. Anyone who likes basketball should respect Kobe Bryant.
But I can't say I'm particularly saddened by him leaving. It's just whatever to me. So excuse me if I sit out on the eulogy.
But there will be one thing I'll always respect him for, and it's for comments like this:
That comment, delivered to ESPN's Baxter Holmes last year on the subject of missing shots, feels like it applies to much of Kobe's career.
Kobe Bryant, by all accounts, is completely unafraid of the consequences of failure and that fact is simply awe inspiring.
As someone who started off writing for this site about entrepreneurs, startups and the general idea of success, I'm familiar with all the cliches about how someone's personality affects his or her professional outcome.
"Be confident, say what you want to say, have no fear of failure, don't care about what people think" -- you know, that stuff.
And, I suppose, I can get with it some of the time.
Being confident, bold and unafraid during interviews? Piece of cake.
Walking up to random people who are much more established for networking purposes? Easy.
But being unafraid all the time in every facet of my professional life? It's so much easier said than done, and yet Kobe seems to have done it all the time.
Have you ever been confident in your talent but still afraid to make mistakes because you're the new person at the job?
Kobe Bryant shot airball after airball during his rookie year in the playoffs. He probably should've been embarrassed, but he still took the shots.
Have you ever been afraid to call out someone who's slacking at the office just because he or she has significant stature amongst the group?
Kobe would unapologetically criticize Shaq for not working hard enough. Shaq was the Lakers' three-time Finals MVP, but Kobe still did it.
Have you ever been afraid to point out a flaw in your friend for fear of provoking an awkward moment. Kobe isn't.
Have you ever been afraid to ask for the amount of money you really think your employer would be willing to pay you, market averaged be damned?
Practically every basketball expert has said Kobe doesn't warrant a $20 million per year contract at this age. But he thought he was worth that to his employers, he asked for it and he got it. Now those checks are going to him and his family.
And here we are, with Kobe at 37 years old, clearly a shell of himself, clearly incapable of performing to his normal standards, clearly making the internet laugh with lowlights...
...and yet, clearly willing to still take those shots.
There's an argument that at his age he probably should be intimidated of looking foolish. But then again:
Like I said, Kobe Bryant is completely unafraid of failure.
And you can question the wisdom of being that way, sure.
You can question whether it's unrealistic not to be cautious at least some of the time. You certainly question whether it's better to pick your spots when it comes to being so brash, instead of doing so all the time.
But you have to applaud the sheer guts it takes to be completely numb to the idea of failing, being embarrassed, criticized or laughed at.
After all, how many things have you been afraid to say or do in life that were actually worth the fear? Personally, not many.
As for that "nothing to be afraid of" quote, there's a part I forgot to add.
If only we all could be so confident in something we know we've practiced so many times. I'll always respect Kobe for the fact he truly is.