Ciao, Vino

Saying goodbye to the player of a generation. Or trying to.
by April 15, 2016

I just tried to write about Kobe. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t put my thoughts into words.

I tried to write about the passion that fueled him for 20 damn years. I tried to write about the desire Kobe had to always get better. He always found a way. All the crazy stories about his workouts, before and after practice, or at 3 a.m. I tried to write about the relentless drive that we’ve only seen a few times before Kobe. The relentless drive we’ll only see a few times after Kobe.

I tried to write about how his greatness can be eclipsed by people who think he’s too competitive. How dare he not make friends on the court. How dare he make enemies. How could he not smile while playing the child’s game?

I tried to write about all those injuries he played through. Shooting two free throws with a torn Achilles. Playing an entire season with torn ligaments in his right index finger. Tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder after yamming on Dante Cunningham. The fractured right knee and the surgically repaired left one. The countless other injuries we don’t even know about that didn’t take him off the court.

I tried to find a way to compare him to Achilles, the greatest warrior ever. He braved injury after injury to continue to fight. Achilles didn’t do it for the glory, the fame, the riches. He was a warrior. It was all he had known. I tried to compare him to Kobe, who now at his most vulnerable, is being celebrated. Kobe, who journeyed through too much criticism, is now hearing 20 years worth of praise.

I tried to write about how he’s a basketball savant. He’s a student of the game and the first lesson he learned is that there’s always something to learn. I tried to write that’s why he’s always working.

We haven’t seen him in the Playoffs since 2012, which is weird. The postseason has felt empty. We were used to seeing him in May and June. He shined brightest when the game meant the most. The five titles, the 36 game-winners. He won the 2008 Olympics with a fourth-quarter surge that was so quick and so devastating, Pau Gasol and Spain didn’t even know what hit them.

I tried to wrap my head around his last game. A 60-piece, with close to 50,000 minutes over 20 years on his legs. How the Herculean effort, even just for one night, returned all of us to childhood, when Kobe’s magic made us all believe that impossible was nothing. I tried to write about how that moment, with the video tributes and the all-day lovefest that came from social media, finally humanized the cold-blooded killer and made us all fall in love with basketball all over again.

I tried to write about how much Kobe has done for basketball. The people’s he’s influenced, the ones he’s motivated. The ones he made quit. I tried to write about how he made an entire generation of people fall in love with the game. Not just America. Not just Italy. Not just China. The entire world. Everyone has a Kobe story. He means something to everyone.

I tried to write about how much we should appreciate one of the game’s very best. I tried to write that no matter who you root for, no matter how many times he destroyed your team, demoralized your favorite player, broke your heart, Kobe should be respected, feared and loved. I tried to write about how truly, incredibly, amazing Kobe Bean Bryant is.

I tried to write that.