On Friday afternoon, my stomach sank as I saw the flurry of tweets fill up my Tweetdeck timeline:

“Kobe playing through pain.”

“Bryant reveals knee pain, lack of cartilage”

“Why Kobe isn’t practicing”

I am 25 years old. I have to stop and think about basketball before Kobe and then basketball with Kobe because it all blurs together for me. I was 11 when he was drafted and while I loved watching basketball before that, it was definitely Kobe’s Lakers that took over my life and influenced my future career aspirations.

After 15 years, an MVP, two Finals MVPs, five NBA championships, 12 All-Star appearances, 81 points, the 12 three-pointers against Seattle, all of the improbable comebacks, the 40-point games, the 50-point games and the game-winners, it’s clear my sixth grade eyes chose a winner. But now, my grown-up eyes are reluctant to acknowledge that the NBA will be Kobe-less sooner rather than later. We won’t have another 15 years. We won’t have another 10.

I wish human beings didn’t have to have such human bodies. I wish he could defy time.

Even though I’m so very excited about the ridiculously talented youth, watching LeBron and Dwyane and Chris in Miami and Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook and co. in Oklahoma City, I’m not near ready to hear that Bryant’s knees are swelling like mad because there isn’t much cartilage left.

Realistically, with the number of minutes, games and years Bryant has played, of course he’s going to be playing through pain. Getting bruised and banged up more easily, sprained fingers that won’t heal and achy joints practically glued to ice packs are everyday occurrences from here on out. I think the part I hate the most about all of this is that basketball as we know it is going to change forever.

I hate that everyone I’ve grown up watching will eventually be replaced by younger and newer players. Maybe they’ll be quicker, stronger and more explosive. Maybe they will be imitating Bryant’s smartass answers in scrums the same way Bryant imitated Michael Jordan’s coolness. I guess everyone who has already watched their favorite players disappear year after year knows what I’m talking about. I knew it was coming, but if we’re being honest, it’s awful.

It was the class of 1996 that changed it all for me. Allen Iverson in Turkey was the first stab. This article from Peter Vescey is another. I can’t imagine an NBA without Bryant. I hate that one day it won’t be a matter of imagining, but of reality.

So, here’s my question for you: How do you stop missing something that hasn’t even left yet? How do you turn Bryant climbing the rungs of the all-time scorers list into anything other than bittersweet? How do you move forward and embrace the new with the same admiration and appreciation that you did your first rookie class?

In the meantime, I pledge to enjoy every point, rebound, assist, steal, block, free throw, cheer, boo, MVP chant and bad shot attempt that is only allowed because he’s Kobe until Kobe is ready to finally hang up his shoes. It’s the least I can do.

Comments (30)

  1. That’s how I feel about Tim Duncan. It’s going to be weird seeing the players I loved when I was young out of their prime and on their way out.

    It’s sad, but every game I just have to appreciate, as you said, every bucket, boo, chant, moment.

  2. Last year i was thinking about, and i told my wife: “next year, we’re going to the us to watch a Lakers match”. The reason of that was Kobe, these are his last years and we don’t know when it would be… so, next feb I will be at MSG watching my Lakers and watching Kobe.

    PD: I’m from Spain.

  3. Felt the same way about Kidd a few years ago…

  4. The most incredulous thing about this article is that Peter Vecsey is still remotely relevant. Apparently there’s enough people to even justify him having a column somewhere, somehow.

  5. It’s kind of felt the same for me when MJ stopped after his 6th championship. But in a slightly different way because I didn’t see it coming :-(

    So the next year NBA for me was really not compelling anymore. When I think of it it’s stupid due to all the good things that were still there after MJ. But it’s how I felt.

    Being from accross the ocean, it’s easier to drop the NBA and I stayed away roughly 2 years. Then I slowly came back watching games and reading articles and of course I became a fan again. Not of the same players/teams but still a fan of the game :-)

    (well I’m still a Bulls fan anyway)

  6. I hear ya Holly, I feel the same way about Nash. However, you’re so lucky to be covering the NBA right now, with all the talent we have packed into the league. We are going to see a big shift in the next 5 years, with Celtics, Lakers and Spurs losing their franchise guys. It’s sad, but exciting.

  7. I really cant imagine the NBA without, Kobe, Pierce, Allen, Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, or Nash. Its gonna be a whole new NBA in the next 5 years or so

  8. Big fan of this (the blog post, not players I grew up with getting older).

  9. oldschool, I even stopped watching NBA for some time after MJ retired. It just wasn’t the same.

    But that annoying Kobe guy? He should team up with Iverson in Turkey rather sooner than later.

  10. I started watching NBA around 1993, dropped out in 1999 (no MJ, lockout, etc.) As someone above said – easy to do when you’re overseas (Poland). And did not really come back until 2-3 years ago.

    In other words – I didn’t really cope with the loss(es) of Hakeem, Chuck, Kemp, etc. I abandoned them myself before they could do it to me. Weird right?

  11. You know when you know something but you don’t KNOW until something hits you?. I’ve been hearing so much about Kobe’s aging, but it wasn’t until reading this article that it HIT me. We don’t much much time left to admire what we have. As stated in the other comments, even with newer, possibly better, players coming in there are some players you feel more attached to than others, and that player for is Kobe Bryant.

    So I’m going to join your pledge and watch as many Laker games as I can while I can.

    As for your question, I think an old saying, though bitter sweet, may apply; “Sometimes, good things fall apart, so better things can fall together”.

  12. Ugh. …full of sound an fury, signifying nothing…

    Such a “personal” tale, with no payoff, at all. Why does this person think I care what team or player she liked? You’re not important. So in order to make us care, you have to write well, or something of substance.

  13. ^^^ If you thought it was that bad, why did you take the time to read and comment on it?

    Anyway, I feel the same way somewhat. I’m still going to watch and enjoy basketball even after players that I grew up watching retire, but I feel like it won’t be the same. I guess it;s because watching guys like Duncan and Garnett play now takes me back to when I was a kid, looking up at these guys and being amazed at what they can do on the court.. It just feels strange being in awe of guys that are 3, 4, 5 years younger than me and being starstruck. I don’t get those feelings with the younger generation.

  14. “It was the class of 1996 that changed it all for me. Allen Iverson in Turkey was the first stab.”

    I feel ya on this one.

  15. Greg, you cared so little that you actually clicked on the article, read it until the end, then deigned to comment. You are a sucker for punishment.

  16. Great article. Greg needs to take a long walk off a short pier.

  17. The Mamba’s bite, legacy, fire, passion for the game, and monumental achievements aren’t going anywhere; energy NEVER exhausts itself it only transforms.

    kb24 IS untouchable.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7VvG1exsgg

  18. Great article. I feel like that when I’m watching any Laker game and you just hit the nail on the head. I’m 21 years old and I basically grew up with Kobe. It’s a sad reality that’s hard to swallow but I’m glad I got to experience all his greatness and continue to do so. GO LAKERS!

  19. did i really just waste 2 minutes reading this bullshit

  20. Terrific piece of writing and for Greg, readers generally do care what writers write. It’s why we come here. As fo the notion of how to put the waning years into a context that isn’t colored by bittersweet, you can’t. It’s part of having a heart. And to be honest, this is part and parcel of life in of itself -as we age, we become more conscious of time the avenger, we tend to look at it in different ways, all of us. I’ve been a Lakes fan for so long, have watched Kobe since he came into the league. I take each game as it comes, an oppotunity to see something special. Enjoy it fully Holly and when it’s over, write something befitting the occasion.

  21. This article really hit home. I am from NY but have been a Kobe fan for all my life. So long in fact, that when people ask me how it started, I cannot provide an accurate answer. Posters, pictures, cards, jerseys, magazine cut-outs, etc. comprise my vast collection of Kobe memorabilia. On my wall is an SI player-poll cut-out from a few seasons ago in which players voted Kobe the most difficult man in the NBA to guard. He is no doubt still up there, but like you I have a difficult time envisioning my beloved Lakers and the NBA as a whole without the dominant Kobe who has wowed us for so long. From the time of his half-fro and high-flying dunks to his current incredibly polished, albeit grounded game, I have found no player to be more enjoyable to watch. His intensity and passion for the game have been shared by few others. As you say, enjoying him while we can is incredibly important. Just like here will never be another Magic, Bird or MJ, there will never be another Kobe.

  22. Never mind the haters, Holly. You are truly authentic and write in a way that shows you have real passion for this game.

    I’ve also been following the league pretty much since Kobe’s rookie season. I’ll never forget how he was going at Michael in his first All Star game. I’m convinced George Karl (if I’m not mistaken) took him out of the game, because he was almost embarrassing MJ! At least, that’s how I recall it.

    For the first time, I’m truly worried about KB’s health. It sounds like it’s a similar situation to Brandon Roy’s, so we now know his clock is ticking faster than before.

  23. u guys should do a dancing hedo sequal since he moved teams again

  24. First thing that crossed my mind when i read the article was “the author was gay”. Then I found out that the author was a girl. You girls should just stay in the kitchen. Basketball needs no drama.

  25. As “painfull’ as it might be seeing the face of the NBA change, for me, there’s a lot of excitement over the next era of the NBA.

    After the superfriends did what they did, the precident has been made. Look at what Melo’s trying to pull…..

    As much as I don’t want to see Kobe/RayRay/JKidd/Nash and Dirk leave, I can’t wait to see what happens next…….Blake Griffin is going to be EPIC!

  26. @Jules: I thought of Brandon Roy, too. I’ve been aware that Bryant is getting older, but this article (coupled with the fact that Allen Iverson is actually in Turkey and not playing in the NBA), was the thing that hit me and made me realize, yikes, we’re closer to the end of his career than we would like to think.

  27. @Cindyisabel

    “(…) I basically grew up with Kobe. It’s a sad reality that’s hard to swallow (…)”

    I know exactly what you’re talking about…

  28. I was just thinking about this a couple of days ago. Just thinking about what the NBA would be like when guys like Kobe, Boston’s big three and Timmy D are long gone. The playing field suddenly becomes uneven, there just won’t be much of a challenge left for Miami.

    Though there are a few rising stars, it’s only time until the Heat fully figure things out and by that time it’ll be too late to even present a worthy challenge to these guys—I think. It’ll be a sad day for the NBA when that day comes and we can all thank the Heat for that.

  29. Wow…there are still brave, anonymous commenters taking time out of their busy schedules to brainlessly bash content they didn’t pay for or were forced to read? Seriously? I’m a big believer in subjectivity and all, but I’m pretty sure it’s been long established that such behaviour is an objective example of how to be a pathetic loser.

    Anyway, I hear you Holly. The thing that makes it easier for me is the constant new waves of new talent. I still miss MJ but there was no LeBron to watch growing up either. What bothers me is that I used to measure my age by these guys, so it’s depressing to see some of them nearing retirement. I don’t want to think of myself as an old veteran, but like Kobe, hopefully I’m getting a little wiser with age. You’re only 25, so you’re just about to enter your prime.

  30. It was sad to see MJ retire after his final dance. Didn’t have
    Interest in NBA again until 2005 playoffs, so I missed out on
    the star-studded Shaq-Kobe threepeat. Glad, too. Sick of
    seeing Lakers in every other NBA finals. No parity in the league,
    which makes the NFL x100 more competitive and fun to watch.
    If Lakers & their fans weren’t so spoiled, I’d give two shits when
    Kobe retires but as it stands, I can’t wait for the day he finally
    retires and sends the Lakers into contendership drought so other
    Teams like OKC, Chicago, Miami, and Memphis can delay their
    dominance for several years like MJ had done in the 90s. Breath
    Of fresh air when Rockets repeated, too.
    We’ve already prepared for Kobe’s departure for the past
    Couple of years but what will be really sad is when a bunch of stars
    from NBA 2003 draft going; LBJ, Wade, Melo, and other great talents
    like Dirk, Duncan, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Durant. Who will replace them?

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