I didn’t become a fan of basketball until the late ’90s. Then it became an obsession pretty much after that. I was nothing but a mere 14 years old around the time Kobe Bean Bryant entered his second NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe, 19 at the time was showing small glimpses of great potential after his rookie season– a season that saw him become the youngest Slam Dunk Champion in NBA history. Still, I wasn’t a fan of the sport–or any sport for that matter. I was the kid that viewed drawing cartoons as a favorite pastime. An athlete I was not.
I only have sparse memories of basketball moments before I became a fan. I was 5 years old when my hometown Detroit Pistons won back to back titles over the Lakers and Portland Trailblazers, respectively. The earliest memory I have of Michael Jordan was watching him collapse at center court, clutching the game ball, after winning his 4th championship on Father’s Day. So my knowledge of the sport was nonexistent to say the least. It wasn’t even the actual game itself that had me falling in love with basketball and Kobe Bryant as my favorite player. It was actually a video game that did. Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside for the Nintendo 64 gaming console changed my life. I was a fan of NBA Jam, but that game wasn’t based on basketball fundamentals. That shit was basketball on LSD. Courtside actually helped me learn the sport. Just like Madden on 64 did for me on football.
I learned to master the game in every facet. I played as the Lakers because Kobe was on the cover–I mean, it was his game. Not before long, I started watching real NBA games. The graphics sucked on 64, so I wanted to see what these players actually looked like as opposed to their video game counterparts. Kobe was so fucking cool to watch in real life. I loved the Lakers, I felt that I had a special connection with them. That 1997-98 Los Angeles Lakers team was one of my favorites ever–even though they didn’t win shit. That team boasted the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Eddie Jones (I was devastated when he got traded to the Charlotte Hornets), Nick Van Exel, Robert Horry, and Rick Fox.
I watched all those early Kobe Bryant Lakers teams (coached by Del Harris) meet the same demise every season. They couldn’t get by Malone and Stockton’s Utah Jazz teams to save their lives. It wasn’t until Phil Jackson’s arrival in 1999 is when things finally turned around. Despite Kobe and Shaq’s legit hate for each other, they managed to win 3 consecutive NBA champions. I still get chills watching Kobe’s iconic alley-opp to Shaq in game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trailblazers . I have followed Kobe throughout his whole career. I witnessed his career highs and lows. I cried when the San Antoino Spurs ended their 3-year title run. I was conflicted when they got back to the Finals in 2004, only to get demolished by the Detroit Pistons, in which, that Lakers team was the NBA’s first super team, way before LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did it in Miami.
I remember the hate he received when he changed his jersey from No. 8 to No. 24, further adding to public outrage of Kobe’s perceived desire to one up Michael Jordan. I remember the 81-point massacre he inflicted on the Toronto Raptors, or the time he got his revenge on the Boston Celtics in the Finals after being ran off the court the previous year. I laughed when he sat at the podium after winning what would be his 5th and final championship and was asked what this title means to him. His response was priceless: “[It means] I got one more than Shaq.” Not to mention the countless buzzer beaters (that one against the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2006-07 playoffs was pure gold), the time he scored 50-plus points in four consecutive games, the time he dunked and emphatically shitted on Dwight Howard during Howard’s rookie season. When he tore his achilles on April 12, 2013, but still mustered up enough strength to ice two free throws–it spelled the beginning of the end.
I’ve been an NBA fan for almost as long as Kobe Bryant has been playing. He is without question my favorite player of all time–in any sport. It’s hard to imagine an NBA landscape without Bryant there. I could go on and on about the many accolades he’s achieved in his 20 seasons, but we already know what Kobe was and what he still means for the sport of basketball. I don’t even remember what happened to that Courtside game. I believe I sold it when I upgraded and purchased a PlayStation 2. Whenever I think of basketball, I’ll trace those origins back to that video game. Like I stated above, that game was life changing, man. I don’t even know if I would be an NBA fan now if it weren’t for Courtside.
Back to Kobe, though. How fitting his last game will be against the Utah Jazz? The team that denied Kobe and squad those chances to advance further into the playoffs during his early years. Kobe has a chance to deny them a final playoff spot in a must-win game for the young Utah Jazz. Kobe, from a team perspective hasn’t had much to cheer for, because this year’s Lakers team sucks ass. It would be the best revenge on the Kobe Bryant Farewell tour to get a W against the Jazz.
I still believe he has one more Mamba moment in him left. It’s only right that he does.