My memories of Kobe Bryant
Kobe played his last NBA game this past Wednesday, and I couldn’t let that occasion go by without writing something about it. To be able to compete and share the court with a great player like Kobe Bryant has been an honor for me. He’s a big part of many of my basketball memories—iconic moments, classic games and heated rivalries.
I remember when he was with the Lakers when I was a kid. I wasn’t a guard, but his success in the NBA was a huge inspiration to me. I got to hear him speak when I participated in ABCD camp in Teaneck, New Jersey in 2001. At the time, most of what he said went over my head, and to be honest, I soon forgot the actual content of his talk. I was just so happy to see someone who was successful in the league speaking in person. I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to be successful just like he was. I wanted to play in the Finals and win championships like he was doing at the time, and it motivated me to work harder.
I remember playing against the Lakers for the first time in my career. Honestly, I was a little starstruck. To experience Kobe’s aura up close and share the court with him felt like a major accomplishment. I remember when I had the opportunity to be on the U.S. National team in 2008. That was another dream of mine—to get a chance to win a gold medal and to be able to call the best players in the world my teammates, even if it was only for a short time.
On the first practice day with that team, I went down to get breakfast before we took the bus over to the gym. There I was, thinking I was pretty early and feeling good about myself and Kobe’s already there. He gets up, says hello and walks out to get ready for practice. The most interesting thing I noticed was that he had ice bags on his knees. I later found out that he’d already gotten his workout in and was pretty much waiting for our practice to start. Mind you, this was less than two weeks after the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Celtics, and there he was, working out and practicing like a maniac. He had every reason to rest up and just focus on being healthy for the Olympics. But every day in practice, he brought it. Every day, he was trying to be the best among the best.
We went to the village to hang out a few times while the Olympic Games were going on, and I remember everybody walking through the arcade that they’d set up for the athletes. There were a bunch of games, but in particular, they had those mini pop-a-shot basketball games that you can find in just about every arcade in the world. Kobe and Michael Redd started playing, and things got competitive. After a few games, I got tired of watching, so I left to meet up with some friends. I had to have been gone for a couple of hours. When it was almost time to head back to the hotel, I stopped by the arcade again and those guys were still playing! Both of them were in a full sweat with a focus like it was a real game. That was pretty funny to me because I’d always heard about how competitive Kobe was and in that moment, I got to witness it for myself.
Kobe is the type of player that comes along once in a generation. He’s an icon for what he did on the court. A champion and true competitor, he delivered again and again on the world’s biggest stage. We watched his accomplishments and failures, and there’s no doubt he’s one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game.
It’s hard to believe that he’s retiring from basketball, but his impact and inspiration will be felt for generations to come. Thank you for everything you’ve done, Kobe! The game won’t be the same without you.
photo via: Daniel Shirley, USA Today Sports