I’ll warn you early, this will probably come off as quite selfish but I really don’t want Kobe Bryant to be rested on December 28 vs. the Phoenix Suns.
I’m Hendo, I’m a 36 year old basketball junkie from Australia who has followed the NBA since the age of 10. I, like many hoopsters my age was, is and will forever be in admiration of the greatness that Michael Jordan brought to our game. I mimicked MJ in my back yard on our homemade hoop as a kid, I collected countless basketball cards and I covered my walls in every Michael Jordan poster imaginable.
I even painted an MJ mural on my bedroom wall when I was 12. (Thanks Dad)
But I never got to see Michael Jordan play live.
I’m travelling to Los Angeles in a few days time and attending the upcoming Lakers vs. Suns match up at Staples Center on December 28. After all these years marveling at the NBA on TV, this will be my first ever live experience. I’ve assigned this event squarely in “bucket list” territory and have spent a small fortune to be seated a mere 2-3 metres from the Lakers bench. Even as a grown-ass man I’m childishly excited and simply cannot wait to experience the NBA up so close.
Everyone’s tastes change as they get older and I was no different growing up. Not wanting to simply follow the mainstream, I always latched onto NBA players that perhaps didn’t have as bigger following as the true greats. I fell in love with Eddie Jones of the LA Lakers and his original #25 was in fact my first NBA jersey that I ever owned. I was forever telling my friends about the exploits of Robert Pack, the pocket-rocket for the Denver Nuggets that to me, made the impossible happen whenever he was in attack mode. I spent countless hours watching Chicago Bulls games in the mid-to-late 90s and was always excited when Randy Brown would check in at the scorer’s table.
I admired guys who I felt weren’t noticed enough and I willingly marketed them to my NBA-loving friends, hoping that they would climb aboard my seemingly empty bandwagon. Everyone knew I would come up with another low key favorite to chime in about … every damn season.
But then along came a kid named Kobe Bryant.
Watching Bryant play on TV was a love-at-first-sight moment for me. This kid had swagger, he had moves and he had a legitimate “f*ck you” factor about his game – and I was instantly hooked. As success came for Bryant in the early years of his career, my fanaticism grew at a rapid rate. He was the perfect transition from Michael Jordan for me, as the great one twice stepped away from the game. Not having a team of my own to support, I’ve always spread my attention around the entire league. Being in such a spotlight with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson kept Bryant and his Lakers on my fan radar but for me the Lakers were always about Kobe.
My friends knew it too and would always be quick to throw the daggers at me when Bryant failed to win without Shaquille O’Neal. They had their favorites and I still had mine, win, loss or 81 points. I always defended “my guy” Kobe whenever these NBA conversations broke out. Some perhaps would use the term “irrationally” to describe my pro-Bryant point of view but I never cared, he was Kobe friggin’ Bryant and that was enough for me.
As we get older though, I think most of us find it easier to be objective. There have been plenty of times over the past five to six years where I’ve accepted that some of Kobe’s decisions have been flawed. The excessive shots, the demonstrative behavior, the dummy-spits. They’re all signs of an aging athlete, sometimes frustrated by the situation he’s in. No one likes to lose but for a particular number 24, it’s clearly much worse than the average. Over time we learn that it’s okay to criticize the players we admire, it’s okay to not love everything they do … they can still be your favorite player.
If we’re talking about greatness and an obsessive will to win that we love in pro sports, very few have had it like Kobe Bryant. The Lakers may not be in playoff contention but that matters not. I’m going to see my hero play the game I love and it’s not about the Lakers to me, it’s about Kobe.
This trip to Staples Center gives me the chance to make it up to 10-18 year-old me for missing Michael Jordan play live. It’s really that simple.
NBA players were legitimate heroes to me when I was a kid. There was practically no vacant wall space in my bedroom between the ages of 10 and 18 with basketball memorabilia literally covering every inch. I spent countless hours reading Basketball Digest, sorting through basketball cards and playing Bulls vs. Lakers and the NBA Playoffs on the SEGA. I was always looking up to these guys, hoping that one day I could play in the NBA like them.
As we get older though, things change when watching/loving a sport or a league. New draftees are eventually the same age as you and that can be a strange proposition for a (still) young fan. Once you pass the age of 35, these “kids” that come into the league are sometimes as many as 17 years younger than you are. While appreciating their talent and hoping that these new additions to your beloved NBA do well, it is no longer feasible to give them “hero” status. At least, not to me it isn’t.
As a 36 year-old, Kobe Bryant is probably my last remaining “hero” in the NBA and I so desperately want to see him play in person. I’ve been a Kobe fan since the very beginning and I’m hoping with all my fingers and toes crossed that he is not rested on December 28 when I finally get the chance to see his mastery in person.
If you’re reading this, please cross some fingers and/or toes for me. I want to be able to say that Kobe Bryant was the greatest player in my lifetime, that I ever saw play live.