Hi friends. In my second article of all time ever, I want to pay a tribute. A tribute to, in my mind, the greatest. The greatest what, you ask? Well, I'm glad you're paying attention. A tribute to the greatest basketball player of all time: The Black Mamba. Let me tell you a little more about me...
The only time this Los Angelino ever played organized basketball was when I was a kid. I mean physically a kid as I still play far too many video games for someone nearing their mid-30's. Oh, also, by "organized," I mean YMCA basketball coached by volunteer dads. That being said, I enjoyed running around with a ball and throwing it around and missing a lot of layups, but I didn't necessarily UNDERSTAND the game. I mean, sure, the concept seems easy; put the ball in one floating circle and keep the dude in the other-colored jersey from taking that SAME ball and placing it in the other hover-bucket. But there's STRATEGY, so much STRATEGY that when learned and executed, it creates a beautiful art form, and that art form has since been named "ballin." The point is, I didn't appreciate the game because I didn't realize how much is involved...I guess.
So, when high school finally rolled around, I played football and track. FUN! I hadn't cared about basketball for a few years, but then during my freshman year of high school, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired the draft rights to a 17-year old phenom named Kobe Bean Bryant. This kid didn't just look great on the court, but he was one of the few basketball players to try and jump straight from High School to the FREAKIN PROS! I mean, imagine being on your high school newspaper and getting a lead reporter job at the NEW YORK TIMES! ::explodes:: Freshmen me probably said something like, "Kobe? Like the name...maybe I'll check him out sometime. I've heard good things. I hope they invent the iPhone soon." So I watched him play limited minutes, but I really got pumped at what I saw. It also helped that Big Shaq Diesel was on the team at the time.
A year later, my sophomore year, coincidentally Kobe's sophomore season, I was really getting back into basketball because of this guy. I can imagine High School Sophomore me saying something like "HOLY WOW Number 8 Kobe is SO FREAKIN AWESOME MAN! I'd probably put a bunch of hashtag stuff here but that's not real yet so whatevs...oh, whatevs hasn't been invented yet either? BOGUS, DUDE!" The MAMBA! KOBE! How much fun was this guy to watch? Granted he never passed, but what an athlete! Number 8 single-handedly had me following basketball again, and helped me become one of the biggest Laker fans out there.
Then came my senior year, the first of three straight NBA Championships for the Lakers. I remember 12th-grade me saying something like "WHOA DUDE TUBULAR RADICAL GNARLY VOICE-CHANGES GROWTH-SPURT HAIR-IN-STRANGE-PLACES FOOTBALL-PRACTICE DRIVERS-LICENSE SPRING BREAK STAR WARS EPISODE ONE...also, I am really a big Lakers fan!" Looking back, I think I had ADD.
Whether it was #8 Kobe or #24, the man had the greatest turn-around fade-away jumper of ALL TIME! Good freakin LORD it was a thing of beauty. His dunks were magnificent...his drive was insatiable (note that might be the first time I've ever used that word, so I hope it was in the right context), his shot was smooth and pretty. His name ALONE became my victory cry for the past 10 years! Here are some examples:
Person 1: Hey Matt, how's it going?
Me: Good, you?
P1: Good...you want to go to a Laker game?
Person 2: Hey Matt, how's it going?
P2: That's really good to hear.
In addition, I have a dog. A cute yellow lab. His name is Kobe...AKA the YELLOW MAMBA! He is a beast, but his basketball skills consist of biting and deflating any sporting ball he comes into contact with. Tom Brady would love him. Back to the subject at hand, the BLACK Mamba has now left us, but he left us in such a cool freakin way. What did he do? Well, he simply proceeded to drop 60 points on the Utah Jazz in his final game, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the game. What an animal. 5-time NBA champion, 2-time NBA finals MVP, 2008 League MVP, 18-time all star, Lakers all-time leading scorer, and so much more. Replacing Kobe will be an impossible task, as he will never be replaced. People will only hope to replicate him...wait what does that even mean? So as he exits stage right or left or wherever he is standing, I stand and give my finest salute to the man that will forever be my favorite basketball player of all time. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the championships. Thanks for the tears down my face during your last game. Thanks for the game-winning shots. Thank you for making me love basketball. I sure will miss you, Black Mamba...or #8...or actually, #24....KOBE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mamba out.