As a kid from Oakland, naturally, I’m a Warriors fan. Kobe Bryant was drafted the year I was born: 1996. So from the time I could comprehend basketball, Kobe was the best in the league. I grew up hating him.
I wished he would miss shots. Wished he would choke under pressure. Wished he would lose to Golden State. But he never missed, or choked, or lost. At least it seemed that way. Feels like I died a thousand deaths at the hands of Kobe. He flaunted in my face, and that of Warriors fans, how good we weren’t, and how far we were from his level.
But that hate morphed into love over the years. It began with a profound respect for his ability. It grew into sincere appreciation for the privilege of watching him. Before long, I harbored a profound affinity for Kobe. It felt treasonous and righteous. I was stanning for a hated rival yet also admiring an all-time great and the attributes that made him legendary.
His tragic passing brought to the surface how I felt. The way the news hurt told me how much he meant to me. Even writing this feels more like torture than a tip of the cap. It is difficult for my fingers to move across the 109 keys on my MacBook Pro. They tremble from the reality that made them move.
I don’t have the words to describe my emotions. It still feels surreal. But through the tears from watching his peers breaking down as they talk about him, through the tearing of my heart at every video tribute and photo of him and his daughter, I am compelled to say this:
Thank you, Kobe.
Thank you, Kobe, for being the enemy, a villain worthy of love usually reserved for friends.
Thank you, Kobe, for giving me a chance to witness greatness when it felt like I missed it as Michael Jordan retired in my youth.
I got an opportunity to see Kobe live in the 2005-06 season. Just after he took down my favorite player, Lebron James, Kobe rolled into Oakland and put 38 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists on my Dubs. It angered me as, near the end of the game in which he torched us, chants of “M-V-P” roared through Oracle Arena as he shot his free throws.
Thank you, Kobe, for showing me how to be a killer on the court.
I was also so attracted to his tenacity. I used to lowkey love it when he’d turn up the defense in the fourth quarter of close game and shut down the opposing star. His aura burned like a fire as competition consumed him. I tried to pattern my pick-up exploits after his assassin ways. I even sought the difficult shots he made look easy. When I made them, I felt akin to him, that unbridled confidence that comes with belittling your foe. I learned how to never give up from Kobe, to never accept defeat. When I lost, I wanted more. At one point I would have hated to admit he inspired that in me. But he did. Watching the man put on the greatest scoring display I’ve ever seen — with 81 points against Toronto — changed my life.
Thank you, Kobe, for giving me incredible friends.
Back in the 10th grade I failed a Spanish class because I argued with one of my best friends for the entire year. He disrespected LeBron by saying Kobe was better and all my focus was on proving he was wrong. But we became tight from our debates. I argued with my older cousin about the same thing. He was so beloved his supporters defended him to death. I respect a man who inspires that kind of fervor.
Thank you, Kobe, for inspiring my go-to motivational song.
In 2013, Lil Wayne put out a song called “Kobe Bryant.” All of 8th grade year, practically every day, I listened to it. It didn’t matter the mood, the circumstance or the agenda.
Wayne rapped about Kobe’s dominance on the court. His greatness and work ethic to be the best and maintain that level. Being a big hooper and having a song like that, especially about someone as great as him always hyped me up.
Thank you, Kobe, for ending your career in the most epic fashion it deserved.
His final game was on at the same time the Warriors were making history with their 73rd win of the season, breaking the NBA record. My favorite team was doing the unthinkable. But guess what I was watching? Kobe.
I watched every bucket as he put up 60 on Utah, willing a terrible Lakers team to a win and himself to one last dramatic performance. In his final quarter of basketball, without much left in the tank, he outscored the Jazz by himself, 23-21, to punctuate his career. Brought me to tears.
Thank you, Kobe, for being a superhero. You were so tough you played through numerous injuries— like that time you tore your Achilles and still shot the free throws and tried to go back in. So determined you dared to put the whole league on your back. So committed you flew to Germany for experimental knee surgeries, pioneering procedures that have become common place because you still had to give your peers that work.
Thank you, Kobe, for showing us how to be a present father. You were a psycho maniac player and you took that same approach to maniacally love and support your daughters.
Kobe wasn’t just a basketball player. He was basketball’s Superman for so many boys and girls around the world. He will be missed so much by everyone in the sports world. Earth lost an icon, one that transcended sports. It won’t be the same. Not just because he is gone, but also because he was so impactful while he was here,
Thank you, Kobe “Bean” Bryant.
They say keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer. I’m so glad I employed that mindset with Kobe, because it feels like I gained a friend. Which is why it hurt so much that I lost him.
Devin Bradshaw is the editor in chief of The Express. Follow him @DevinBradshaw_.