The beautiful artwork was put together by TFM’s Meg Turner
One year ago today, the world stopped exactly in its place and struggled to move any further. There was nothing timely about it. There was no warning, it just happened.
It was one of those things where you remember exactly where you were when you found out, but you can’t remember when you really healed from it. Some people never did.
We all had a different relationship with Kobe Bryant. Some people were diehard Laker fans, while others were diehard Kobe fans which turned them into Laker fans. Some people were just basketball fans who couldn’t help but admire his untamable tenacity and his relentless efforts to want it more than anyone else on the court. He had that effect on people that no matter how you viewed him, he was always in conversation, just because he was so undeniably great at basketball.
And then there are guys like me.
I was not a Kobe Bryant fan. In fact, I absolutely despised the Lakers. I love the game of basketball, but I was solely attached to one team: The Golden State Warriors.
And holy shit.
I grew up watching Kobe Bryant absolutely slaughter my favorite team. It felt like every time we played Kobe — not the Lakers, *Kobe — every time we played Kobe, he would derail our entire team down to its molecular level. He was like a harsh winter: you know it was coming, you thought you were prepared but turns out you’re stupid as ever and you didn’t know shit.
After Kobe would make his quarterly visit into town and drop 40 on us by the mid-third quarter, someone on our coaching staff would get fired and a couple of players were sent to the D-league. He would just expose weaknesses you didn’t even know you had and made fools out of everyone he played.
To me, Kobe Bryant was like Darth Vader; Kobe was one of the greatest supervillains of all time. In his prime, you could not stop the Black Mamba.
For his final game at Oracle Arena, the Warriors announcers literally played The Imperial March, Darth Vader’s theme song, behind Kobe’s starting lineup announcement. It could not have been more fitting, because every Warriors fan hated playing Kobe because he would gut us. It did not matter who he had behind him and what force you put in front of him because at some point he would bite his jersey and you were fucked.
You were fucked.
But you respected him.
I can’t even imagine what it was like to be a Sacramento Kings fan. All Kobe did was rip that city in half. Even though he was literally poisoned at his hotel in the playoffs — true story — Kobe broke that city and took a steaming shit on that franchise, a mess that they are still trying to clean up to this day. Think about it, they couldn’t even beat him after poisoning him.
Even in Kobe’s final season, a year plagued with seemingly endless bruises, wears, and tears, he rested for three games just so that he was 100% healthy enough to play in the King’s stadium one final time.
I mean holy shit, who does that? Why go through such an effort to beat one team?
Because it was bigger than basketball. It was the final chapter of an epic tale of good versus evil. A fitting finale in a narrative written for one of the greatest competitors that ever walked the Earth.
Kings fans hated him dearly, but they respected him, nonetheless.
And even when you beat him, you didn’t really win. Sure, you won some meaningless regular season game in January, and everyone was fired up that they just beat Kobe. But in true super villain fashion, Kobe would be sitting on the bench, icing his knees, smiling. To him, it’s not about winning one game. It was about the next opportunity to improve your game to continue to be outright better than everyone else. When Kobe lost, he would learn. Even if you beat the Lakers, you didn’t beat Kobe, you were just delaying the inevitable: Where Kobe would make his rounds, utterly dismantle your team, and create ulcers for opposing general managers.
In his 20 year career, how many clipboards did opposing coaches break over their knees. Or better yet, how many new opposing head-coaches did Kobe face. He must have introduced himself so many times, and then said “goodbye” just as fast. I know from the time Kobe entered the league, the Warriors had 11 different head-coaches, and Kobe embarrassed just about all of them, including Steve Kerr.
I mean in all honesty, the league had to build itself around Kobe. Seriously, if any team thought that they had a chance, they had to plan around getting past Kobe Bryant.
Sure, we drafted this guy named Stephen Curry and then this other guy named Klay Thompson, and they turned out alright. But Jesus Chirst, the Splash Brothers spent their first 3-4 years in the league being babysat and spanked by Kobe once a month. While the Eastern conference played duck-duck-goose and were spoon-fed until the finals, it was literally Kobe vs the entire West.
The San Antonio Spurs had a dynasty, a fucking dynasty, in the making, with a starting lineup full of hall of famers, led by legendary head coach Greg Popovich… and Kobe STILL ran a clinic through these guys. The best part was Kobe did this with a supporting cast of squids. I’m not talking about when he played with Shaq, oh and by the way, had Shaq never left the Lakers, Kobe would have 15 rings.
I’m talking about the post-Shaq Lakers. Where Kobe played with Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and, holy shit, Lamar Odom. Every guy on that team thrived because their best skill was having a strong first instinct of passing the ball to Kobe Bryant. They were fine for their respective roles, because if Kobe decided to pass it back, God forbid, they made their shots.
Granted, these guys were hilariously wide open, because Kobe always had to have three guys guarding him, but they made their shots. And the moment they didn’t, they were finished and exposed as the average players they really were.
Derek Fisher and his rainbow three point shot, a shot that got so much elevation that it visited another solar system before it went in the hoop… that only worked because Kobe allowed it. Sure, he was a good shooter, but if Derek Fisher wasn’t making that shot, he wouldn’t have been a Laker, because Kobe wouldn’t have him. Derek Fisher did not average more than 14 points a game in a single season in his entire career, and when he wasn’t a Laker, he was really just a guy.
After Ron Artest’s tenure with the Lakers, he changed his name five times before playing in China, never to be heard from again. Good bye, Ron.
Pau Gasol, bless his heart, always gave it his all, but the minute he wasn’t playing with Kobe, he was a tall dude with an okay mid-range game.
And Lamar Odom was on crack.
For the second half of his career, Kobe tormented an entire league and he did it practically by himself. I love the fact that simply removing him from the season via an achilles tear showed the world just how dysfunctionally bad the Lakers really were. It was like someone made a sand castle out of catshit and kitty litter. The Lakers were that bad and Kobe was that good. That’s the thing, Kobe had to tear the life out of his achilles for him to stop playing. He had to be physically unable to walk properly before he was deemed “injured.”
Kobe’s strongest weapon was his iron-forged will. You weren’t able to guard him, that was already a given. But you couldn’t hurt him either. There was literally nothing you could do to stop him. Even if all five guys charged him in the key, which happened quite often, he was gonna make that and-one. Perhaps he dislocates his finger or twists his ankle, but he’ll be back before the next commercial break. He would pop a bodily organ back into place on LIVE TELEVISION and then go drain a fadeaway three in someone’s face.
It was so frustrating, but so admirable.
That’s just who he was. Kobe was real. It was never about the persona or the image, it was just about being the best. It didn’t matter if he was catching some light work in the gym at 3 AM or playing in Game 7 of the Finals, it was all the same relentless work session for Kobe. He didn’t switch teams, he didn’t even try to finesse the system. He stayed right where he was, staying true to himself, and balling out like only he could.
It was so annoying. He didn’t go anywhere. Like a monument, Kobe stayed right where he was, making sure you knew well in advance that you were going NOWHERE until you figured out how to get past him.
He simply just showed up and outplayed everyone else around him, every single day. He did this until the final buzzer in his final game. I think the best part about that game is the fact that the Lakers season was done after that, while it was a must-win game for their opponent. The Utah Jazz very much would have liked to have a postseason. All they needed to do was beat the laughing stock Lakers led by a washed-up Kobe Bryant in his final game in the NBA, and the Jazz were going to the playoffs.
All they needed to do was get past Kobe Bryant. On the outside looking in, one could say that this was an easy win for the Jazz and that Kobe had nothing to lose in that game.
You’d be a fucking idiot if you believed Kobe felt that way. Kobe was a super villain and to him, that game was everything. He would rather die on that court before allowing the Jazz to make the playoffs on his account. 60 points later, the world heard “Mamba Out,” two words that haunted every citizen in the city of Salt Lake City for months.
Some people say that Kobe’s final game proves that unexplainable magic really does exist in sports. But there was nothing magical or unexplainable about that game.
That was just Kobe, and he wasn’t going to lose in his final game.
And then began the opening to what could have been an even more impressive second act; an even bigger testament to Kobe’s work ethic. Having one of the most decorated basketball careers in NBA history simply wasn’t enough. He needed more. Not because he needed to satisfy a bottomless pit for an ego. But rather because the mamba mentality saw everyday as an opportunity to be better. Out of the league for less than two years and the dude wins an Oscar. That’s right. An academy award. He has the same amount of Oscar wins as Leonardo DiCaprio.
You know when you get so mad that you just start laughing, like you’re going insane. Kobe did that to everyone he competed against. It was comical how unbeatable he was. You would just break down and start laughing, like you were the Joker.
But his biggest competition wasn’t with any specific opponent. It was with himself. It was his endless quest to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man. The saddest part is that his decorated NBA career came second to his priorities within his family.
And then, on that Sunday, the world stopped exactly in its place. I can tell you exactly where I was the moment I found out. I was in my buddies room, glued to the TV, wondering if anything in life really even mattered. The earth still spun on its axis, but what was the point?
My 49ers were a week away from playing Patrick Mahomes in the SUPER BOWL, and I didn’t care. They could have canceled the game and I would have been none the wiser.
When you lose someone, you no doubt lose a part of yourself. I lost someone I spent most of my life fearing, resenting, and rooting against. Yet on that day, I have never felt more empty and incomplete than I have in my entire life. I knew it would be a long time before I felt as passionate about rooting against anyone again. Because he was the best of my time.
Kobe’s death taught us that these GOAT arguments are a waste of time, and that rather than fighting amongst ourselves whose better, we should appreciate them while they’re here, and honor them when they’re gone.
The world didn’t just lose an athlete. The world lost a hero, a true advocate in the belief that there was no stopping until it was over. Kobe wouldn’t want us to mourn over his death. Instead, he’d want us to move on and continue to better ourselves until we can’t anymore, because you never know when that time will come. All you know is that there is no offseason. There’s just the next opportunity to be better, until that final buzzer goes off.
Kobe, it was an honor rooting against you all my life. Rest easy, Mamba.