It was summer of 1996 and the Los Angeles Lakers had just come off a 53 win season but also were bounced in first round of the playoffs by Hakeem Olajuwon and the defending Champions, Houston Rockets. The Lakers knew they needed to make moves and were able to do just that. They signed Shaquille O’Neal and agreed to a pre-draft trade with the then Charlotte Hornets who acquired Center, Vlade Divac and sent Kobe Bryant who would be the 13th pick out West to the Lakers.
No one at the time knew how historical this trade would be, but Dr. Jerry Buss and the Lakers knew they had a special talent on their hands.
From Boy to Beast
Bryant spent 20 years as a Laker and I personally followed every moment of his career. From the air balls his rookie season in Utah, to him telling O’Neal “I got us…” when O’Neal fouled out in 2000 Finals to his 81 point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Due to the high volume of historical moments in his career I can go on and on but I don’t need to.
Rather your a fan of Bryant or a hater you watched his career and you know what he was capable of and what he achieved. What I think people overlook when it comes to Bryant is his mentality. His want and desire to master the game of basketball. Some say he was too similar to Michael Jordan, I think that’s just another reason to hate on Bryant. What’s so wrong in wanting to duplicate the best and implement your own style? When people say “he wanted to be Jordan…” it makes me chuckle because even to this day, all players want to be compared to the best, they just can’t.
Watching Bryant transform into the Black Mamba was just something special for any basketball fan to witness. He would take over late in games, dare players to come out and defend him while he backed you down from the three point line and on the other end would defend his opponent into a state of confusion. Number 8 would fly over your head and shoot 3’s, and number 24 would dance with the ball, kill you from midrange and give you some footwork that would leave you crossed-eyed.
When you love the game, it loves you back
The NBA has been around for many moons so when different generations discuss greatest of all time, they have different answers. With that being said, it’s downright lazy and disrespectful to leave Kobe out of the debate. 20 years with one franchise, 18x All star, 15x All Team, 12x All Team defense, 5 rings, ranked third on league’s all time scoring, 2 Finals MVPs and a mentality that can’t be duplicated. Even after listing all that, it doesn’t do Kobe’s career justice. He played through major injuries just to carry guys you wouldn’t recognize today if they bumped into you.
The love and dedication that Bryant showed to the game was great to witness, now we are witnessing the game love him back. He scored 60 points in the last game of his career and now the Lakers have announced not only will they retire his jersey, tonight they will retire both 8 and 24. No matter what narrative you choose to hate Bryant, “bad shots, ball hog, bad teammate…” the next generation (and some of his peers) want to be just like him. As a real basketball fan, i’m just glad I got to see him leave his imprint on the game.