Where do I start? I could talk about what you meant to so many people, the game of basketball, etc, but that’s already been well documented. Let’s talk about what you meant to a kid growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania.
I was a huge sports fan, football and baseball being my favorites. With Pittsburgh not having a professional basketball team, I didn’t really have a rooting interest in the sport. I watched with my dad, but it’s different when your city doesn’t have a team to support. That all changed when I first saw a purple Magic Johnson jersey hanging in the Finish Line store at the Westmoreland Mall.
That was the spark that started my love for the game of basketball and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a spark needs something to catch on. That’s where you came in.
With a team to sport and follow, I started wanting to watch Lakers games. The timing was perfect. A young talent that could take control of a game in an instant, you became my basketball hero. My Magic jersey may have drawn me to the game, but you made me a lifelong Laker. It wasn’t long before my purple 32 jersey was sharing time with a Lakers home, white number 8.
The moments after, I can remember like yesterday.
Christmas Day 2004. I remember the anticipation for that game. I remember running down the stairs at my grandparents’ house to watch the game in their living room. That loss was heartbreaking, but I watched you drop 42 points on what felt like the biggest stage in the world.
2006. You scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. You want to talk about a real-life superhero? 81 points were unimaginable, but you made it look effortless.
To follow it up, you put on show after show against the Phoenix Suns. You had a kid over 2,000 miles away chanting “We want tacos” with the Los Angeles crowd, as you scored 43 points to help the Lakers clinch a playoff spot. I didn’t get free tacos if the Lakers held the Suns under 90 points, I wasn’t in the building. But that fact didn’t concern me.
2009. A magical run, culminating in a decisive five-game beating of the Orlando Magic. I finally got to celebrate my first Lakers championship as a fan.
2010. The series that I will never forget. A chance to get back at those Celtics that broke my heart two years ago. In that series you scored 30, 21, 29, 33, 38, 26 and 23 points. You were the leading scorer in six of the seven games. That was peak Kobe. The mamba mentality on full display.
After that, you transitioned from a star to a legend. The glory days were over, but you still gave us six years of your heart and soul. Through injuries, age and lack of team success, you still seemed to make basketball look like art and made everyone my age yell “Kobe!” anytime they would throw something into a trash can.
You went out like only you could, with 60 points in your final game. Literally growing up watching you, it felt like you’d play forever. That’s why it’s so hard for me to comprehend that you’re gone.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for the countless memories. Thank you for the 8 and 24 jerseys that I can pass down to my kids someday. Thank you for giving me a number to wear in my own athletic endeavors. Thank you for inspiring me to work the hardest I can to be the best I can be, no matter what it is I’m doing.
Most importantly, thank you for making this kid from southwestern Pennsylvania the proudest Lakers fan, and Kobe Bryant fan, on the face of the earth.