KOBE Bryant this week announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at season’s end. Yeah. That’s OK. I never liked him.
There he was, this cocky 19-year-old in his first NBA All Star Game, waving the veterans away so he could try and take Michael Jordan one-on-one?
Sometime later, I watched him missing shot after shot, but continuing to take them, his self-belief unshakable, his Los Angeles Lakers teammates unbreakable.
Yet still sportscasters continued to laud him as the “next coming” of MJ, and fell about themselves when he teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to win three championships.
The “greatest duo in Lakers’ history” they told us, omitting Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
When Bryant drove Shaq out of town, that was the last straw.
Although teaming with Pau Gasol for another two titles was impressive, even if I drew far greater pleasure watching Doc River’s Boston Celtics revisit the golden era and smack LA for the 2008 championship.
Not sure when it happened then. I know it wasn’t when Kobe scored 81 points — second only to Chamberlain’s 100-point game — or won his MVP.
It may have been in 2010 when a close work colleague met him in South Africa in the off-season and was dazzled how he spent hours teaching kids basketball for an AIDS charity.
Maybe it was when that same colleague named his first-born son Kobe.
Or when Bryant made a funny cameo appearance in an episode of Modern Family.
Maybe it was when he called out Dwight Howard for his softness and fear of commitment.
Or it may even have been this week when another young friend who is an almost mindless Lakers fan, dipped into his savings to get a week in LA to next year watch live Bryant’s last few appearances.
What did happen is as Bryant has aged and his game deteriorated, listening to and reading detractors damning his legacy inexplicably has made my blood boil.
This man WAS the second coming of Michael, OK?
He DID win five championships, WAS at the time the youngest player to debut in the NBA, he HAS been selected for 17 All Star Games, represented the US at two Olympics and put his hand up, at 37, for a third in Rio.
He told fans in a personalised poem of the difficulties of his decision and Jabbar responded equally poetically with: “Lord, that man could soar, could score, could leap from shore to shore.”
I still don’t really like Kobe Bryant. But admire him? Respect his game? Honour his legacy?
Yep. You’ve got me on all three.
Worse still, like all true basketball fans, I’m going to cherish the memories and miss him.