Man, I hated Kobe Bryant.
I hated that stupid afro, I hated the arrogance, I hated that gold Lakers uniform. I hated everything about Kobe Bryant.
I mean, I hated other things about that Lakers team too but most of my hatred seemed to be focused on Kobe. I mean there was Shaq but you can’t really hate Shaq anymore than you can hate a Category 5 hurricane. It’s just a force of nature, you just have to recover after it blows through.
It didn’t help that I was a long-suffering Wolves fan surrounded by Lakers and Sixers fan. All my friends wore either Kobe or AI (Allen Iverson) jerseys. Most of my friends imitated either Kobe or AI on the playground.
But not me, Kevin Garnett was my god and Wally Szczerbiak was my Jesus. This may not seem like very much but when you grew up on Sam Mitchell and Tom Gugliotta getting major minutes, this was heaven.
Every year of my high school, I had to watch that stupid Lakers team and my stupid-ass friends celebrate as they went deep into the playoffs and won it or came close.
I had to watch Kobe Bryant pretend to be Michael Jordan (even mimicking some celebrations) as he paraded his barely-out-of-his-teens ass up and down Staples Center.
And every year, the Wolves and KG crashed out in the first round.
That changed in the 2003-2004 season. We brought in Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and suddenly we were good. KG won the MVP. We were the first seed in the West.
Beat the nuggets, in the first round 4-1, beat long-standing nemesis Sacramento in seven games at the Target Center. But then Kobe happened.
God, I hated Kobe.
But as I grew up, I minded him less. Maybe it’s because since that season the Timberwolves haven’t been relevant AT ALL.
Maybe, that’s all it is. I’d like to think its more the nuances and appreciation for greatness you get as you grow up and develop into a person. Eventually, everyone gets a semblance of a career and a path gets laid out before you and you realize how hard it is to get to the top of your profession.
In basketball, just like in real life, nothing is accomplished without hard work. Sure, some people may be smarter, or taller, or faster or more adept at certain things but natural talent means nothing without hard work.
As an adult, you realize the amount of perspiration and perseverance needed to achieve even a modicum of success.
Even in the NBA, natural talent only gets you so far. Just ask Derrick Coleman.
Kobe was not only naturally talented, but he also worked harder, tried harder and cared harder than any player in his generation. As an adult, you respected that and with that respect, some of the hate subsides.
As an adult, you also look to the character more and the on-court villainy less. Here was a man that was just getting started on his second act. And unlike his first act, there was less to hate.
His legacy as a leader, the way he seemed genuinely excited to be a father, his intellectual curiosity were…are things all of us could learn to do more as human beings.
The world is a lesser place for having never seen his second act and third act.
Man, I hated Kobe Bryant.
And now, I am really going to miss him.