(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Los Angeles wasn’t ready for the joy, the heart, and the determination a 17 year old kid from Lower Merion High School was going to bring into their lives. The only person ready at the time…Kobe Bryant. While Lakers GM Jerry West believed in him, most people probably thought he should be in college studying. The funny thing is, Kobe was a student of the game and had been studying not only basketball but the NBA his entire life.
The son of former NBA player, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe had a love for the game that was unmatched from an early age. Bryant’s youngest years were during his fathers basketball career transitioning from the NBA to International ball. Even though the young Bryant was growing up in Italy that only fueled his love for the game as he would study NBA games his family would send to him from America.
Nobody knew that a kid growing up in Italy was going to take America by storm. As Kobe mentioned in his Showtime documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse”, he hated his new life back in Philadelphia. He ate his lunches alone, he was the outcast, but he let his game do the talking in the process. He used all his pent up anger, all the discomfort and turned it into greatness. Just one of the lessons Kobe would teach us in his lifetime.
After an amazing senior season where he would lead his team to a state championship and be awarded the Naismith National Player of the Year, Kobe would enter the NBA Draft. The Lakers would trade up for Bryant, and were ready to build a franchise on the back of a 17 year old kid who needed his parents to sign his first contract.
The Lakers paired their young star with another superstar in the making Shaquille O’neal who had signed a monster contract in free agency. Kobe’s first couple of years weren’t as easy as he had hoped. One game that changed his career and helped create the Kobe we know today was a playoff game against the Utah Jazz. Kobe would air ball four shots in crucial moments late in the game, which the Lakers would lose the series to the Jazz. That moment would eat Kobe up as he would once again use adversity to fuel his fire and love for the game.
The fire lit by adversity, the pairing with Shaq, the hiring of coaching legend in Phil Jackson all led to an amazing dynasty that would bring the Lakers and Los Angeles three straight championships. It was a new era in Laker land, all led by a 21 year old star who dreamed of being a Laker his whole life.
Shaq would later go to the Heat and there were many tough losing seasons that followed. Kobe stayed loyal to the Lakers and Los Angeles stayed loyal to him. He showed us that tough times don’t last, tough people do. He got us through the tough times and brought us two more championships with a new and improved team.
Even later in his career, he taught us to never give up. After tearing his achilles, he knew his team needed him so he stepped up and knocked down two free throws like only Kobe could. In his last game against Utah he did the unthinkable and dropped 60 points leading the Lakers to victory and giving us one last amazing moment to cherish.
Kobe’s work ethic was unmatched, his drive to win was insane, he was a hero and a villain. These characteristics would bring happiness to fans, get under the skin of his rivals and push his teammates to be better than they ever thought they could be. No matter what character he portrayed, he had the respect of everyone in the room.
Respect was very important to Kobe. The respect he had for the game, for his teammates, for his opponents, and for himself taught us that relationships are everything. While Michael Jordan’s career was ending as his was beginning, he soaked up as much as he could from the greatest of all time. Their game had so much in common, their drive was the same but they were two different beasts.
Kobe was definitely the student, but soon he became the teacher. Not only was he showing the league what he was capable of, but he would show another teenager in LeBron James how to become great in a grown man’s league just like he once did. The entire basketball world, would pin Kobe & Lebron against each other for years but that only made their bond stronger. So strong that once Kobe would hang his Nike’s up for good, LeBron would join the Lakers and try to carry on the legacy that Kobe built but respecting his greatness in the process.
Kobe taught us life on and off the basketball court. He taught us to never give up, that hard work pays off, to motivate each other, to push ourselves beyond comfort, to love the process and to respect one another. As Los Angeles and the world continues to mourn the loss of our hero, we will celebrate him as we celebrated the buzzer beaters, the championships, and all of the moments that we loved. We will continue to live the way Kobe taught us to live, and pass it on to our future generations. We will get through this, we will stand up, walk to the free throw line and make two free throws for Kobe, for Gigi, for us.