As any Los Angeles native will tell you, being a Laker fan begins at birth. Much like New York, Los Angeles is a massive, metropolitan and diverse city with distinct neighborhood segregation. But sports have the uncanny ability to tie together very disparate peoples under one banner. In Los Angeles, that banner is purple and gold, and the man who has led it into battle for the past 20 years is Kobe Bean Bryant. Kobe’s transcendental NBA career came to a close on Wednesday in a fitting manner. He scored 60 points en route to a win which erased a double digit deficit against the Jazz. Even as Stephen Curry and the Warriors made history, Kobe managed to steal the spotlight one last time. Kobe chants reverberated throughout the stadium, willing on the 37-year-old. His elevation and trademark explosiveness were clearly diminished, but once we witnessed his mamba stare one last time, the game was instantly decided. After three season-ending injuries and organizational turmoil, Kobe gave his all to perform for the millions watching him. He is often described as a once-in-a-generation talent. The generation Kobe dominated is ours.
It is easy to take for granted the contribution Kobe made to the Lakers and the game of basketball. The most remarkable aspect of Kobe’s dominance is its longevity. His moments of greatness are so numerous that in my memory, they begin to blur together. Numerous recesses were spent with kids running up and down the court attempting to replicate ludicrous turnaround fadeaways we had witnessed on TV the previous night. Each shot was paired with a “Kobe!” and every swish with pumping fists.
People follow teams and players for varying reasons. For some it’s a tradition established at birth by their parents, while others fall in love with a particular playstyle or ethos a team has. Millions around the world are Lakers, and particularly Kobe, fans. His fanbase touches places thousands of miles away from the Staples Center — Kobe jerseys are a regular staple in Italy, China, Turkey and the Philippines. The common denominator amongst Kobe’s most ardent supporters and even his detractors is a respect for his work ethic and commitment to his craft. The stories other players have told about Kobe’s passion for the game is near mythical, and it is precisely this superhuman level of drive to succeed in face of adversity that has made him a role model.
I never truly believed the day Kobe would retire would come, but it finally has. Initially, I found myself thinking that I was losing a part of myself when Kobe would walk out the tunnel for the final time. There is no other player in the league that has captured my attention in nearly the same capacity Kobe has. Every time you turned on a Laker game, you went in knowing that there was a very real chance something magical would transpire. It was a feeling of suspended excitement that had you coming back. But his ambition and willpower is what inspired myself and millions of others. Hearing Kobe talk about following your passion with intense fervor truly inspired me. It led me to search for my own passion and switch majors multiple times. Once I found it, I unlocked a kind of work ethic I never knew I possessed, leading to grades I only imagined.
Kobe’s documentary “Muse” delves into the sources of his inspiration. In a Q&A with the New York TImes, Kobe gave an example of one such source:
“When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right?”
Our inspirations simply serve as examples of how to achieve a particular goal or ways we inform our mindsets. It is for this reason that I have come to understand that experiencing that inspiration real-time is simply a bonus. Kobe’s five championships, two Olympic medals, a career high of 81 points, 60 points in his final game and countless other performances are already immortalized in basketball history. The process of coming to terms with the end of this era is abated by his performance Wednesday night. He poured his whole soul into it, pushing beyond the limits father time would normally dictate for a man who has logged so many minutes. In his postgame press conference, Kobe offered advice to the young Laker core.
“If you don’t give it your all, you will regret it,” he said. “You’re absolutely going to regret it.”
As spectators, we are left with no regrets. We can be at peace with Kobe’s finale because he was always an overachiever. His body of work isn’t going anywhere, so neither should the inspiration he has provided us with. Of course, things will be different — the way you follow your team, your sport or play the game will change. But you are not losing any part of you as a person; inspiration lasts a lifetime. Not all good things must end.
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