Katelyn E. Clooney
I’ll never forget my first trip to Springfield, Mass. It came long before the campus tour, long before the bucket hat, long before my inaugural Cheney experience. It came over a decade before I even stepped foot on Alden Street.
In August of 2003, a month shy of my 12th birthday, my mother and I visited the Basketball Hall of Fame. As I roamed through the halls, “ohhing” and “awwing,” the birth of my dream to be an NBA analyst was born. After we returned home, a souvenir picture from that day was immediately set on my nightstand. In it, my mother’s arm lay around me, as I smiled ear to ear, my hands holding a basketball, wearing a purple jersey with a white “8” and gold trim that fell against my scrawny legs, nearly reaching my knees.
The front on the jersey read “Lakers.” The back read “Bryant.”
It was, by far, my favorite shirt. Though, by the time I fit into it, Kobe Bryant had already switched to number 24. Bryant was, by far, my favorite player. I didn’t even like watching basketball, but I loved to watch Kobe. I was mesmerized by his athleticism, his flexibility, the way he twisted and turned in the paint, laying up with ease. I was amazed by his dunks, amazed by his passes, and most amazed by his energy. Despite being on a team that won three consecutive NBA Championships, Kobe’s natural talent easily stuck out, even to a young novice like myself.
Every Sunday, that the Lakers were televised, I ran home and had a lengthy fight with an antenna until I got to catch a glimpse of Kobe’s effortless play.
Now, at age 23, every night that the Lakers play, I open my Gametime app and have a lengthy argument with the school wi-fi, until I get to catch a glimpse of Kobe’s timeless play.
In Tuesday’s comeback win against the Sacramento Kings, Bryant scored 32 points. He now has 32,261 career points, just 31 shy of Michael Jordan’s 32,292. As the Lakers get ready to face the Spurs on Friday and the Timberwolves on Sunday, Bryant is likely to eclipse Jordan’s total this weekend. By eclipsing Jordan, Bryant will not only surpass his own idol, but will also become the third highest scoring player in NBA history. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone have accumulated more points in their careers, scoring 38,387 and 36,928, respectively.
Moving into the Bronze spot in scoring would, of course, be just the latest achievement in Bryant’s historic career. He is a 16-time All-Star, 4-time All-Star MVP, has been named to the All-NBA First Team 11 times and the NBA All-Defensive team nine times. In 1997, Bryant won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Eleven years later, he won the NBA MVP. He is the owner of two Finals MVP’s, two scoring titles and two Olympic Gold Medals. Oh yeah, and he is a five-time NBA Champion.
I know, Jordan has six rings, and trust me, Kobe knows that as well. We’ll get to that later. Keep in mind, Robert Horry has seven.
If you can’t appreciate Kobe’s success, at least respect his resilience. The above résumé is solid, but even more impressive is what he overcame en route. A broken wrist, two broken fingers, six sprained ankles, five knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery – all suffered by Kobe in his 19-year career. Let’s not forget the broken nose and concussion he suffered in the 2012 All-Star Game, courtesy of Dwyane Wade. After being injured in the exhibition game, Bryant donned a face mask and played in the Lakers’ very next game. How about the time Kobe had a sore back in the 2008 playoff series against the Utah Jazz? He went on to average 33.5 points in that series. Two years later, he had had his knee drained several times throughout the playoffs, yet averaged 29.2 points, six assists and 5.5 boards, and won his fifth ring. Then, of course, there’s the Achilles. At 34 years of age, Bryant tore his Achilles. He then channeled his inner Willis Reed, walked back onto the court, completed his two free throws, and tied the game before leaving with 34 points.
In his 19th season, he is currently leading the league in points per game. Let’s not focus on how many shots he’s missed, but instead, let’s marvel at how many he still has the physical ability to take. Also, let’s face it; no one else on this Lakers team is going to make that many shots either. Still, Kobe wants to win, or at least go down swinging. So at age 36, he is putting the team on his back, no matter how hard it is, no matter how much he has to sacrifice his own body.
Yes, Bryant has talent, but it is his resilience, his passion and his work ethic that make him such a great player. After going up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, with two nights rest ahead, some would celebrate. Most would sleep. However, as Chris Ballad recalls in The Art of a Beautiful Game, Kobe instead went to his hotel’s gym, at 2 a.m. and ran on a treadmill.
No matter how many times Kobe falls, he gets back up. No matter how good he is, he wants to get better. He has always been known for coming to practice early and staying late. He simply loves the game.
And he knows the game. He appreciates the game. He appreciates the history.
The thing about history is that it’s often not appreciated, or even recognized in the moment. Bryant has one year left on his contract, after which Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak believes Bryant will retire. Bryant has spent his whole career with the Lakers and has the most points in the storied franchise’s history. Jordan went to Washington, Abdul-Jabbar went to Milwaukee, Malone went to Los Angeles. Bryant stayed in Los Angeles; he didn’t chase championships elsewhere.
Don’t hate him because he’s loyal. Don’t hate him because he speaks the truth. Bryant will get that sixth ring. No, not this year, and not the next, either. But, don’t cry, fellow Lakers fans, when Bryant retires. For he will return, and will win another championship, probably more, as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, but that’s down the road.
Instead of comparing him to Jordan, instead of talking about his legacy, instead of predicting his future endeavors, let’s instead watch Kobe play. As I sat as a young child, feet crossed, back straight, and gazed at the television, I knew that I was witnessing something special. Little did I know, I was witnessing history.
Katelyn Clooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org