I hated Kobe Bryant.
Growing up in the Bay Area as a Warriors fan, why would you like him? He entered the league in 1996 and at the time I didn’t think much of it. After all, he was this high school phenom but hadn’t proved anything yet. But because he was on the Lakers, I knew that this guy was the enemy.
Over the years, that enemy became the villain. He was the nemesis. He was the thorn in my side and on the side of my favorite team.
I hated it when the Lakers won three straight titles. I hated seeing him make those game-winning shots. I didn’t want to hear it when he scored 81 points. I was upset that he won two more titles later in his career.
I would intentionally agitate fans by claiming that he wasn’t the G.O.A.T. and that he wasn’t even the best player of his own generation. (Tim Duncan is better.) When he scored 60 in his final game, I looked at the flaws of his stat line and instead tried to direct the narrative to the Warriors who had just won their 73rd game that same night.
Heck, even when the Lakers retired both his jerseys, I was finding ways to hate on this unprecedented move for a team I didn’t care about.
Kobe this. Kobe that. I hated it. As a Warriors fan, why would you cheer for him?
I recall the night he and Antawn Jamison went head-to-head in that epic 51-point battle. Oh the elation I felt seeing my team, the lowly trash Warriors, match up against the mega superstar from the city of lights and beat them. It was truly one of the greatest highlights of my young fandom as a Warriors fan. We matched up against the heavyweight and won!
And even today, two days after his tragic death, I’m still instinctively finding ways to hate on him. I keep thinking that the petition to change the NBA logo to his silhouette and the Mavericks’ choice to retire #24 are just ways that Kobe keeps getting all the glory. Why does the enemy get all the glory? (By the way, both of these moves are absurd. But that’s for another day.)
But this disdain for Bryant is just me as a Warriors fan. After all, the reason why I hated him so much was because he was so damn good. Plus he played for the Lakers. If he played some team out East, it’d be different.
However, that’s how the chips fell. The Lakers traded for him on draft day and the Warriors were awful in that era. It was a rough time seeing this talented, once in a lifetime player dominate my team and put a strain in my early years of fandom.
Despite my feelings of Bryant, I knew exactly where he stood in the history of the game. He was elite. That killer drive (aka Mamba Mentality) made him so unique and different. He was a great shooter. A great defender. He was a legend.
Even though I disliked him, I knew I couldn’t miss out on a chance to see him play live in person. So on November 28, 2009, while the Warriors were back to being a bad team, I went to Oracle Arena to see Bryant and the Lakers play. (I had season tickets for that year — back when it was affordable.) The highlight was seeing one of the best players ever in action. (Also it was nice to see the new Warriors draft pick Stephen Curry play live for the first time.)
The Warriors lost by 33. Bryant scored 20 points in 32 minutes of action. I distinctly remember bringing my digital camera for that game and tried to capture as many photos as I could of the icon. This is probably the best photo I took of that night.
That’s his patented jumper in perfect form, making a lesser player feel useless. He was the perfect player for that era.
I was in disbelief when my friend texted me about the initial reports of Bryant having died in a helicopter crash. I thought the internet hoaxes were at it again. There was no way that it could have been true.
But as I scrolled through Twitter and started seeing credible sources reiterating the same news throughout the next hour, I was in shock.
How could this be? Not this way!
Since then I have seen the outpouring emotions from people all over the world. And it started to hit me as I evaluated all the memories he’s created as a player and the ones he did in retirement.
I may not have had any fond memories of him because of my fandom of the Warriors and where I was was raised. But still looking back, I knew that he was big. He was important. He was special.
And now that I live in Los Angeles, you can feel this quiet somberness in the city. I drove by Staples Center a couple times the past two days and even seeing the signs and memorials dedicated to him was hard. The city lost one of their own. The basketball world did as well.
We all know that Bryant wasn’t a saint. He had his flaws and errors. He did some bad things and he rubbed some people the wrong way. But it’s still a life and despite all that, he also did a lot of good too. And as a basketball fan, he gave the game so much. And I can only speak of him as a basketball player.
I’m sad. How can you prepare yourself for something so sudden and tragic? You can’t.
It’s a strange feeling knowing that for all those years, I had every valid reason to despise him and cheer for his shortcomings. But also, I knew and recognized that the reason why I disliked him was because he was so good.
I needed that nemesis. That enemy. That villain. He was the one who was the standard.
I’m going to miss having him as the nemesis. He was the perfect adversary. Only he could have pulled off that role. He was that damn good at it.
Farewell and much respect to you, Kobe Bryant. Thank you for making me miserable. I enjoyed that journey you put me through.