By Gio Gloria
Shock wouldn’t be enough to describe the moves you did on the court. From dropping 81 points on Jalen Rose and the Toronto Raptors to scoring 60 points in your curtain call, the fancy footwork and the gravity-defying moves never ceased to amaze me and the rest of your fans.
And yet on January 27, just a few days after the anniversary of your 81-piece over the Raptors, you left this world. I was shocked, stunned beyond belief. Tears were welling up my eyes and I didn’t want to go to work. My best friend and I were talking (and grieving) and he reminded me that Kobe would want me to work today. So with that, I gathered myself and went to work. #MambaMentality
As I write this, I still feel the shock. “Maybe this isn’t real?” We live in a world where fake news can be pretty pervasive. As Jerry West, the man who kickstarted your NBA career, said in his initial reaction to your passing, “I want to go to bed and hope it’s a bad dream.” But then a quick scan over Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps any or every social media outlet will tell you that no, it’s true. You’re gone now but you sure as hell won’t be forgotten.
We asked for your hustle, and you gave your heart. The five championships, scoring titles, that MVP trophy, and yes, even that Oscar, are a testament to your unparalleled and legendary work ethic. Heck your legacy goes beyond the court; anyone shooting rolled paper into a trashcan knows you gotta say “Kobe!” while leaving that wrist bent down.
I look back at the year 2000, the year I started loving basketball. You and Shaq tore up the league and while he was the Most Dominant Ever, you were the young upstart helping make the Lakers the Most Dominant (Team) Ever. I was six, I was excited, and I was wondering, “Who was this? This guy makes basketball look fun and vibrant. I want in.”
2004 was the year I was worried about you and the Lakers. Shaq was gone, the sexual assault scandal was in full bloom, and the vitriol to you was at an all-time high. But then, you embraced the adversity and turned it into something that would make you rise like a phoenix. You were a real-life example of turning lemons into lemonade. Sure, those early post-Shaq years were a struggle, but you powered through like only you would.
The 81-point game was an absolute masterpiece of jumpshots, layups, and pure will and determination. All the pump fakes you’d do, I’d practice them on the court. That double-spin against the Houston Rockets? I tried it. That up-and-under jumpshot against half the NBA? I made it. Even if I did them just once ot twice, I understood the feeling of putting in the work all for that moment. That feeling of success? The one where you feel so alive? Heck, it was addicting but I know you knew that already.
2009 and 2010 were the best Laker years of my life. You won your two titles that year and I risked my phone getting confiscated just to watch the highlights and get live updates from my parents and my ninang (all three of whom are Celtics fans lol). Everyone talks about Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals but Game 3 for me was the game that sealed the Lakers’ 16th title. Playing against the Celtics on their home floor is no joke and the big plays down the stretch gave the Lakers a crucial 2-1 series lead.
The injuries that ravaged the latter part of your career were tough. The moment I heard and saw news about your Achilles injury was a gut-punch to me. But you bounced back, multiple times. A fractured tibia and a torn rotator cuff took a toll on you, but you were always up to the challenge and wanted to finish your last season on a high note.
2016 was a fun year despite it also being a down Laker year. La Salle would win the title (a team you congratulated back in 2007) and your last game, a 60-point game no less, what a way to go!! #MambaOut was just the right way to describe it, considering you ending your career not with a whimper but with a bang.
To play 20 years for one team is the kind of career that is a rarity nowadays in any field. As I continue on in my young career, I hope to achieve even just a semblance of the work-equivalent of what you did on the court. I was hoping to meet you one day in the future, to talk about life basketball, and well, pick your brain with the same curiosity you had for the game.
You were asked for your hustle, and you gave your heart.
Now it’s my turn.