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.