As I sit here trying to figure out how to pay homage to someone I have never met, it doesn't really seem like that is what I am doing.
I've "known" Kobe Bryant since I was 10 years old. Since I began taking basketball seriously. Jordan was always my favorite player, The Knicks, my favorite team but there has always been something about Kobe that I couldn't help but love and be so captivated by and I think that echoes true with many people, especially New Yorkers, and never more so than when he laced up his sneakers and took to the court at the famed Rucker Park.
Kobe was never scared of the "moment" in fact he was someone who seemed to look for it... or maybe it was just always looking for him. From the (then) record setting 61 points he posted in Madison Square Garden to his 5 NBA Championships and 18 All- Star Games. It didn't just stop there. Kobe has the second most points scored in a game in NBA History with 81 and to cap off his career he scored 60 points in his very last game ever.
He was the picture of grit and toughness, too. I still remember watching the game against the Magic and Matt Barnes fakes an inbound pass right in front of Kobe to scare him and back him off the sideline. Kobe doesn't even flinch! It was a top 5 badass moment, ever. And if you think that was a moment that defines him, you're forgetting possibly the most amazing feat of toughness. After getting fouled and tearing his Achilles tendon which would eventually sideline him for around 9 months, he stands up, walks to the free throw line and hits both shots before walking to the locker room with more disappointment in his eyes than pain.
Too many people leave Kobe off the GOAT list, often going with the flavor of the week with current players who have not even come close to finishing their careers. I am not knocking the Kevin Durant's and Steph Curry's of the world but Kobe was too good for too long not to be considered in the Top 5 of All Time Greatest NBA Players.
I am just happy I got to live in a world where I got to see Kobe Bryant play basketball.
His contributions post retirement, although brief, were admirable. Doing everything he could to spend more time with his family, starting the Mamba Institute, attending WNBA games in an effort to bring more publicity to their league, coaching a travel team for his daughter Gianna and in the off-season holding the Mamba Academy workouts for a select group of NBA Players to breed the next generation of players to have that Mamba Mentality.
So from the 10 year old kid who watched you be a guy who not only bridged the gap between Michael Jordan and LeBron James and the 33 year old whowatch you put your name and face in the Mount Rushmore of NBA Legends while showing us all that with a little bit of cockiness and a never ending work ethic amazing things are possible.... Thank you, Kobe.
Our love and prayers go out to your family and the families of all that were lost.
Gianna Bryant 2006-2020 / Kobe Bryant 1978-2020