When Kobe Bryant announced his retirement, part of me felt as resigned as Mr. Bean Bryant. Growing up as a Celtics and Blazers fan, there shouldn’t have been any way I’d feel bad for Kobe. He was the guy who handed the Trail Blazers the worst Western Conference Finals loss I can remember and the overall worst loss in my life as a sports fan (2010 NBA Finals Game 7).
Kobe is just one of the guys who made sports what it is to me today. When Kobe is gone, it’ll just be Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan left for me to cling to as a late 90’s NBA fan. Garnett is going to retire after this season, Ray Allen hasn’t played anytime recently, and likely won’t. Living in the listicle era, everyone has been posting their top 10 NBA players of all time, and many people have Kobe as the second best shooting guard of all time, behind Michael Jordan. As an overall player, I don’t how why Duncan isn’t ranked ahead of Kobe, but that’s ultimately semantics.
Kobe was a player I’d hated my whole life, until he tore his Achilles ’13. I had started to respect Kobe after the 2012 Olympics though. Seeing what intangibles a player needed to win the way Bryant did coincided with my turn from being a fan of teams, to being a fan of players and the sport itself.
Kobe was gutsy. He was arrogant. He took Brandy to prom. In hating him and spending so much time thinking about Bryant, I realized that I respected him, and wished he’d been on any team I’d rooted for. How could you not want a guy who wanted the ball in the last :45 seconds of a game?
Kobe Bryant in the 2015/2016 season, however, isn’t that guy. I can’t honestly remember seeing someone so good be so bad. I’d say I feel bad for Kobe, but I respect the guy too much to feel bad. Rather, I feel sad. This is the first time I can recall in my sporting fan life where I’ve seen someone lose it so hard. It’s hard not to be affected by it. It is like seeing your father forget that he just asked you what the movie you just saw was, or when your grandparents send you the birthday check they’d meant to send to your other cousin who’s birthday is nowhere near yours.
As we get older, our capacity for empathy and how we see life changes and softens. No longer are we hardwired to hate basketball players for any reason other than spousal abuse or latent homophobia. If sports is a microcosm of greater society, seeing someone age should alarm us before it fills us with joy. In seeing Kobe breakdown, let us take a minute to appreciate how special Tim Duncan has been. These guys aren’t going to be around forever, and neither are we.
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Jordan Paladino is a Portland comedian, rapper, and writer for the show “Who’s the Ross?” He is a staunch defender of all things Lebron James, Drake and Kanye West. He is also a KD hater. I try not to hold these things against him.