“One day, you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. Don’t laugh. Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” Those were the words Micael Jordan sounded during his legendary and emotional Hall of Fame induction speech. Although youngsters now may be forgetting his game, those words will always resonate with those who choose to listen
For Kobe Bryant, he is one who always listens. Not just to Hall of Fame Induction speeches from his idols, but of the sounds of the haters cursing his name on the sidelines, the sounds of the media spreading rumor and gossip about his life, and the sounds of his opponents trying to taint his legacy.
For Kobe, just like MJ, he doesn’t worry about limits or fears. He does not believe in “impossible” or “unachievable”. He simply does what he does best: Win.
The path wasn’t simple for Kobe, however. Unlike other great Lakers, Kobe was somewhat of an afterthought coming into the league. He didn’t have a supreme legacy coming out of High School (like LeBron James), he was just a kid who was good at basketball. And after being selected 13th in the draft, he was traded to Los Angeles. Why? Because at the time, the Hornets (who were the ones who picked him) felt they had no need for him. They threw him aside for Vlade Divac.
But somehow, Kobe never let that slow him down. Once his rookie year started, he was off and running. It did not come easy though, like that game in 1997 when he threw up three airballs against the Jazz in a tight game they needed to win. That moment, Bryant later said, shaped him. And even though he STILL faces scrutiny for those air balls... he never let that slow him down.
When he and Shaq finally began to cement their dominance over the NBA, it began a series of moments that Kobe would never forget. The three-peat changed everything for the young Bryant. It gave him that first taste of ultimate victory, and now he never wanted to let that taste go stale. It gave him a HUNGER for winning that we had never seen before. And, unlike other great Lakers, he seemingly took a backseat to his All-Star teammate.
Once again, Kobe was not concerned with who had more points at the time, he only wanted to score enough points for his team to win. Even if he had to shoot 5o shots to get there. That's what makes Kobe so special. He did whatever he thought it would take.
With Shaq’s departure came a backlash of criticism that rivaled what any star in L.A. was used to. He was blamed for everything, and he would be bashed for everything and anything wrong with the Lakers. Unlike the other great Lakers in history, the fans weren’t always on his side. In fact, many were calling him “selfish” and “stubborn.” Yet again, however, he refused to let it slow him down.
The post-Shaq era brought about a new age for the Lakers. It marked the beginning of a period where the Lakers needed to sink before they flew. And unlike most other superstars, Kobe stayed to help see the Lakers through. Even when Kobe called for a trade back in 2007, the Lakers knew they couldn't let him go. There was just something between Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant that made the two inseparable. The city and the star were connected in a way not even Magic or Hakeem experienced
With added pressure from Kobe, the Lakers went out that season and made some big changes. Pau Gasol joined the squad, and they brought back point guard Derek Fisher. Those moves proved to be enough, as the Lake show went on to repeat NBA championships in 2009 and 10.
And where was Kobe? Right in the middle of it all. He never failed to shine away from the pressure or the impact of the moment. Kobe made sure to give it his all to win... or die trying.
The thing is, though, he had been doing that for 20 years. For TWO DECADES, Kobe gave everything he had to the Lakers. For TWO DECADES, Bryant pushed criticism, scandal, and hatred aside to bring the Lakers championships.
Magic? Kareem? Neither of them surpassed 14 seasons with LA, and even Wilt Chamberlain played for other teams during his career. After spending 20 years in a city, with an attitude, a heart, and the talent of a champion, it becomes your home. Kobe changed the face of basketball in Los Angeles forever. In fact, he WAS the face of Los Angeles.
So as great as those many Laker greats are (and believe me, they are GREAT), none could say they put more time into that city than Kobe. None could say that they wanted to win more than he did. None could say that they changed basketball for the Lakers and Los Angeles more than him.
For 20 years, Kobe only knew one way of life on the basketball court. It was one centered on winning, no matter the cost.
Kobe Bryant did the impossible longer than any Laker did. He was a hero to a city that desperately needed it. And he still believes that limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.
So maybe it’s time for us to believe as well. Maybe it’s time for us to believe that Kobe Bean Bryant may be the greatest Laker who ever lived.
And if you don’t? He will keep on doing what he has been for over 20 long years: Winning.