by Holly MacKenzie
When I heard about Hardwood Paroxysm and their Kobe Bryant Blog Day, I knew I had to be involved. The best part was that only a year ago, I might not have gotten to do it. Thanks to the greatest opportunity in my life and the best basketball publication in the world, I get that chance today. As anyone who has read my column knows, Kobe Bryant is at the center of my basketball universe. He is the single biggest reason why I love this game and this will never, ever change. Despite the ups and downs of his personal life and basketball career, the greatness of Kobe still shines over us all. Haters included.
Kobe Bryant has been a permanent fixture of my life. While these moments listed below show only snippets in a great, great career I hope to show how lucky I feel to have been able to grow up while watching Kobe Bryant grow up himself. Living in Atlantic Canada, my childhood consisted of staying up until 2 and 3 am watching the Lakers and my guy play. I am submitting this post so late tonight because just as Kobe and his magnificent performances have been the perfect nightcap to so many of my evenings, I want to be the nightcap to the very successful Kobe Bryant Blog Day.
Because so many memories and accomplishments define Kobe’s career, I have chosen only eight. Eight memories to commemorate the original number eight. Eight memories to delve into over these 24 hours dedicated to number 24. Here we go.
2:35pm April 29, 1996
The Scene: Lower Merion High gymnasium, Lower Merion, PA
“I’ve decided to skip college and take my talent to the NBA.”
I’m a 12-year-old girl in love with the game, flipping through TV channels. I stumble upon footage of a press conference and from that moment on, I am not the same.
A high schooler named Kobe Bryant stands at a podium, dimple flashing, sunglasses atop a glistening bald head. I’ve got no idea how many people were in the room with him that day, only that it marked the beginning of a career that would thrust him into the homes of millions every night. Smiling, the precocious 18-year old announces that he’s going to skip college and take his talent to the NBA.
For whatever reason, the confidence brimming over in that young guy connected within me. The more I read about Kobe and his decision to make the jump, the more critics had to say about how he was destined to fail, it became clear to me: Kobe was different. He wasn’t afraid to fail because failure was not an option. He would succeed because that was the only thing he would settle for.
From that press conference, I learned two things; the first being the very important lesson of never wearing sunglasses indoors. Even Kobe Bryant cannot pull that look off. The second was something of greater importance, something that has stayed with me this entire time. When you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter who doesn’t. If you eliminate the possibility of failure then you will find a way, some way, to achieve success. Unfortunately, the 13 teams that bypassed Kobe Bryant in the draft would have to wait a little longer to learn this lesson.
May 12th, 1997
The scene: Delta Center, Utah. Western Conference Semifinals. Game five. Jazz leading 3-1. Fourth quarter and overtime.
“I never thought I’d see the day after shooting those airballs that they’d be chanting my name in this building.”
—On Utah fans cheering for him six years after the airballs
This game still stings to remember, just as the yellowed newspaper articles still pain me to read. It wasn’t fun seeing Kobe struggle or the Lakers get knocked out of the playoffs. It really wasn’t fun hearing everyone get on Kobe for the airballs. I learned from this moment how not to be afraid and also, that he who works hard, will laugh last.
This moment in Kobe’s career is one that the haters just can’t seem to let go. After all of the overtime-forcing and game-winning shots the guy’s made, people still love to point out that in his rookie season—getting his first taste of the playoffs—Kobe failed. Or, this is what they like to say.
In actuality, Kobe stepped up in the fourth quarter and overtime when no one else seemed willing. Confidently shooting a potential game-winning three-pointer, he watched along with the rest of the basketball world as the ball hit nothing but air on its way down. Not to be deterred, he continued to shoot in the extra session, trying to will the ball into the net and his team into the conference finals. Neither happened as he missed three more three-pointers.
This moment stands out to me because it isn’t a failure. Instead, it was the first true glimpse we had of the young man with the mind of an assassin. While it did not turn out for him or the Lakers that time, he stared at fear straight on and didn’t give an inch. This fearlessness and focus would wind up separating Kobe from every other player in the league. The bitter taste of defeat would stay with him, and only serve to make him work harder. The result of this hard work coupled with his fearlessness was his evolution into the greatest closer in the game.
May 20th, 2000
The Scene: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indiana. NBA Finals. Game Four. LA up 2-1. Overtime.
“This is the game you dream about as you’re growing up. You lose yourself in the moment. You’re consumed by the game.”
I had the photo of Kobe shaking his head and smirking as he ran down the court in this game hanging in my locker for years. While I had waited for it patiently and Kobe had known it always, this was the moment he truly became a hero.
The road to Kobe’s first championship went through Indiana. After being up two games to one, they found themselves in an overtime battle with the Pacers with Shaquille O’Neal on the bench after fouling out. While the moans and groans of Laker fans echoed loud and clear, one person wasn’t worried. Playing on a sprained ankle that had forced him to miss the previous game, Kobe Bryant was ready. And with the game on the line and the Laker lead down to one, he simply takes over. Somehow finding his legs and ignoring all pain in his ankle, he knocks down three jumpers, then slices to the basket, grabs an offensive rebound off of a Brian Shaw miss and flips it up and in. With Coach Jackson and the rest of the bench still on edge, Kobe runs up court, motioning with his hands to settle down. Smirk on his face, he shakes his head. He’s got this.
This game was the breakout of a superstar. While the team was undeniably Shaquille O’Neal’s, it was finally Kobe’s time to shine. With his team in trouble, this was his moment, his opportunity and he simply did what he was born to do. Win.
February 10th, 2002
The Scene: First Union Center, Philadelphia. 2002 All-Star Game.
“I was pretty upset. Pretty hurt. I just wanted to go out there and just play. Just play hard.I can just look at them being just diehard Sixers fans, I guess, being loyal to their team.”
As a loyal Kobe fan, his All-Star MVP was bittersweet. Winning it in his hometown on the same floor where he had won his second championship only months before, it should have been a moment of pride. It was, but the booing from the Philadelphia fans could not be ignored and served as another reminder that Kobe Bryant is hated as much as he is loved.
In a meeting of the NBA’s finest in his adopted hometown, Kobe’s star shines brighter than the rest. The Western Conference All-Stars defeat the East 135-120 and Kobe scores 31 points, all while being booed from the opening tip to the final buzzer. With his peers surrounding him, he is presented the MVP trophy as the boos continue to rain down. This is Allen Iverson’s home now, not his.
While this is the first time I can remember an All-Star MVP ever being booed at all—let alone in his hometown—it’s just another example of who Kobe Bryant is. He is the exception to every rule, he defies all explanation and he refuses to let anything shake him. He has suffered the wrath of hate his entire career simply for being the best. For being the closest to Jordan that there is. For posing a legitimate threat to MJ’s legacy. For being too good too soon. It is because this hate is bred out of fear that Kobe can brush it aside. Fear no longer exists in his world, remember?
May 12th, 2002
The Scene: Alamadome, Texas. Western Conference Semi-finals. Game Four. Lakers up 2-1. Fourth Quarter.
This moment should be referenced as “The Rebound”. This series was one where Kobe became the go-to guy in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, I remember staring in horror as the ball rolled off of his foot and then exhaling as soon as Fisher got the ball because I knew, somehow, the Lakers were getting the win. Just as he has ever since, Kobe refuses to give up until the final buzzer sounds. While Duncan and Robinson were waiting for the ball, Kobe went and got it. Making it happen, snatching away the Spurs hopes along with one single rebound.
When the Lakers needed someone to step up offensively against the Spurs in Game Four of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Kobe Bryant answered the call, scoring 12 of his 28 points in the final quarter. After knocking down three three-pointers, he ends up with the ball in his hands, top of the key. With 14 seconds remaining, tie score, he dribbles the ball off his foot. Derek Fisher scrambles to retrieve the ball, and with seven seconds on the clock, his shot misses. As the ball bounces high off the rim, a man in purple soars into the picture, snatching the offensive rebound away from San Antonio’s twin towers. A hard bounce and he rises again, laying the ball through the hoop with 5.1 seconds remaining. 87-85 and the Lakers are victorious, thanks to Kobe.
Not just scoring on jumpers, drives and free throws, Kobe does it all when needed. How many times do we see him come up with the huge rebound, appearing out of nowhere, out-muscling and out-hustling any threat to his team getting the W. Whether it be on the defensive end with a block, steal or lockdown D, or on offense with an astounding drive to the basket or an impossible fadeaway, four years to the day since those airballs in Utah, if the game is on the line Kobe is licking his lips, ready for his close up.
July 18th, 2003
The Scene: Staples Center. Press Conference. Kobe and Vanessa Bryant. Kobe proclaims innocence of sexual assault charges.
“I’m innocent, you know. I didn’t force her to do anything against her will. I’m innocent.”
I am sitting. Watching. Waiting. Unable to believe what is unfolding in front of me. Out of everything that resulted from Kobe’s assault trial, I learned about focus and also about being a fan. I will be a Kobe Bryant fan until the day that he retires. Knowing this fact does not make it any easier to watch your favorite fall, but it does serve as the ultimate reminder that they are human.
On a sunny summer afternoon, Kobe Bryant sits at a table in a back room at the Staples Center, his second home, looking lost. With his wife at his side, tears in his eyes, the confidence has been stripped away. After defending his game oncourt night after night, he now would begin the biggest fight of his life as he prepared to defend his innocence after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Colorado hotel. As the basketball world watched, mouths agape, completely stunned at Kobe Bryant’s fall from grace, he gains the strength of a man broken.
The funny thing was, playing a season with his freedom hanging in the balance seemed to make him freer than ever on the court. Time after time, he would attend a hearing in Colorado only to fly back to the arena, suit up for the game and then astound everyone as he shut one world off and dominated in another. Game-winners, clutch shots, big fourth quarters, he did it all, because he was more aware than ever that each game could be his last. Already conquering fear, Kobe had now conquered doubt. The doubters of both his game and his innocence no longer mattered. He knew his truth, was aware of his own ability and he chose to silence his critics through his only means of power. The game.
January 22nd, 2006
The Scene: Staples Center. Raptors vs. Lakers. 122-104 Lakers. 41 minutes. 81 points.
“Not even in my dreams. That was something that just happened. It’s tough to explain. It’s just one of those things.”
Along with the championships, watching Kobe play live for the first time and finally getting to meet the man himself earlier this year, this is the ultimate moment in my career as a fan. Watching the game, cranky and upset that the Lakers were down, I remember yelling to my friend to get out here because, “Kobe’s got that look”. Turns out he had more than the look. He had history in his hands, creating it with each shot that fell through the net. I am confident I will never see a better performance in this lifetime. I am thankful that I was there to witness it.
With the Lakers down 18 in the third quarter against the Raptors, Kobe Bryant gets angry. Really, really angry. No one expected what was coming next. Not the 18,886 sitting in the stands, nor the millions watching around the world, possibly not even Kobe himself. After scoring a mere 26 points in the first half, he absolutely annihilated the Raptors single-handedly, smashing NBA records along the way.With four seconds remaining, Kobe walks off of the court with “81” beside his name on the scoreboard. But that wasn’t even the most important number: 122-104, Lakers.
There is not a whole lot to be said for this game besides greatness. With fire in his eyes and that unrivaled will to win, Kobe Bryant has proven he is unstoppable when he gets into that zone. In those magical 42 minutes of basketball he accomplished a feat that had only been topped by Wilt Chamberlain and solidified his position among the greatest of all time.
The Scene: Staples Center. First round of NBA playoffs. Kobe Bryant wins his first regular-season MVP award.
“I’m Kobe Bryant and I want to win a championship.”
I am as big of a Lakers fan as I am a Kobe fan. When the trade demands flew this summer, I felt sick, like someone had punched me in the stomach. Even in the darkest of days for those of us who love Kobe and the Lakers as one, I knew somehow it would be resolved. I didn’t know we’d be competing as such a high level, with legitimate championship hopes. While this moment has not yet happened, I am confident, more confident than ever, in fact, that counting out Kobe Bryant is not something you ever want to do. If you are not convinced, check moment No. 6.
After the conclusion of a most successful season where the Lakers exceeded everyone’s expectations, Kobe Bryant finally lays claim to the one piece of hardware that he has been missing. Following a neck-and-neck race with King James, Kobe Bryant is rewarded with the NBA MVP. The season started in disarray with trade demands from Kobe, questions surrounding the Lakers talent and uncertainty from Coach Jackson, but stability was discovered. And it was Kobe who provided it. Elevating his game even higher, finally finding that elusive balance between dominating and deferring, Kobe’s evolution is almost complete. He is the best player in the NBA and a few more rings should complete his living legacy.
In Hawaii, during the Lakers preseason camp, the rookies introduced themselves. At the conclusion of the meeting, Kobe stepped up and said, “I’m Kobe Bryant and I want to win a championship”. While the rest of the world salivated over the possibility of Bryant’s being traded, he was concerned with one thing only: Whichever team he suited up for was going to compete for a championship. As it turned out, he’s still wearing that familiar purple and gold. Things seem to have finally fallen into place for the greatest player in the NBA, and it all happened his way.