I remember when Kobe was this HS kid coming out of PA. Had the nerve to want to go pro. He had the grades, wasn't prop 42 or Junior College material.
Far from your typical "urban" hoops legend. He straight-up wanted to go pro. No college seasoning needed at Duke or UNC or another legendary program.
Most people were confused by Kobe's confidence. He believed that anything he worked at, he could accomplish. He was the only guy who really had the audacity to try and "be like Mike."
But I had a window into that world.
There was a magazine called College Sports. And on one of the back pages, a year earlier, there was a story about Joe Bryant's kid. Jerry Stackhouse was going into his rookie year and he played against that kid, in the Sixer's gym.
Kobe bust Stackhouse's ass.
Then Stackhouse, in his first season with the 76ers, led his team with 19.2 points per game. Kobe was probably like if he could do it, so can I.
Me and my boy Jason saw Kobe play in the McDonald's All American game. Shaheen Holloway (South Side) was the best player that day. Paterson Catholic's Tim Thomas was the most talented. And the player who was supposed to be must-see-TV, Ronnie Fields, was injured and didn't show.
There was Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson, Mike Bibby, Mateen Cleaves, Rip Hamilton, Ed Cota... a lot of names. But none was bigger than Kobe Bryant. And he was wack!
At the end of the game, I booed. Clearly he wasn't ready. But he played like he didn't care. Just kept shooting. Ok... but go to school young fella. You might not be ready.
Kobe and his team led by sneaker icon Sonny Vaccaro, played the Nets for fools and next thing you know Kobe is on the Lakers.
Early in he was a dunk contest winner... ok. But so far nothing special. Then against the Jazz in the playoffs, he made me a believer. At the end of the game. Kobe took the shots. Some people saw airballs. I saw heart. Because he was taking shots that Shaq, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel wasn't taking. I told people, "watch this kid."
On that day I became a believer.
And that's what I'll always remember about Kobe. Nothing was given to him. He wasn't anointed. But he wanted to be great. I tell my kids... you're desire to be great cannot exceed the work you put into being great. That's what makes Kobe different.
Few people remember how important basketball was in the lives of Black kids. Especially, Black kids in cities. It was the one opportunity you had to show that not only were you as good as the white man, but better. So it means something to my generation in ways that have been lost due to opportunity and progress. But there was nothing like getting your ball and going to the park. Day and Day out. Working on your game. Getting dissed. Coming back. Getting bust on your a$$ and coming back.
In the words of Rakim: "Kick a hole in the speak pull the plug then I jet. Back to the lab..."
For money? No. For love. And Kobe had that love. Though he was of that opportunity generation, because he grew up in Italy, he needed an identity. So he gets it in a way people today do not.
This $hit here? It's nothing to take lightly. Treat it with respect. Cherish it because you are given something special. Go hard, until you burst.
Today they have load management.
Kobe's most memorable game was not when he was 20, 25 or 32 and winning championships while expressing a passion for the game that has not been equaled by any player since. But when he was washed up playing his final game. Kobe dropped 60. And the Lakers won. His free throws sealed the deal. I tell people to give to what you love. Unfortunately, most are takers.
Can't measure Kobe by social media likes and tweets. Or analytics or stats.
It was that he was there. And there when it counted. You want somebody like that in your life, because, most of us do not? We settle for less. Something Kobe never did.
Rest in Peace Kobe.