If Uncle Phil was our stand-in father, Kobe Bryant was the estranged older brother. The sibling whom we didn’t have a close personal relationship with, yet admired and fiercely claimed as our own. We took every triumph of his and lauded it over the other children in the sandbox. Children who dared to put their hero on the same granular pedestal we had constructed for number 8. Every loss was met with withering indignation, as we pawned off his shortcomings on the mortal failings of his counterparts or the finicky nature of chance. Such was the life of a Lakers fan in southern California growing up during Kobe’s career.
“I say a big verse I’m only biggin’ up my brother”
See that’s the thing with our big brothers, everything they do well is amplified to the point of urban myth, and failings are dismissed to the winds, as objectivity is sacrificed on the altar of hero worship. We endeavored everyday to be just like them, mimic their moves, and recreate in our own lives the spell their wizardry placed upon us. We wanted to tag along on the journey, but were grounded behind the looking glass of our own physical limitations. So we settled to watch. To learn. To take bits and pieces of the Lincoln Logs of their legacy and make something uniquely our own, yet inspired by the breadcrumbs that led us into the dark forest of adulthood.
“The game is a light bulb with eleventy-million volts and I’m just a moth addicted to the floss”
Kobe wasn’t a native son of Los Angeles, yet he so exquisitely exemplified many of the traits that define us. Diverse in ability, dogged in determination, arrogant to a fault, and possessing an insatiable thirst for greatness. It takes a confidence beyond the realms of rationality to say no to Coach K and be the first perimeter player to enter the NBA straight from high school. It takes a maniacal thirst for greatness and belief in oneself, to shoot air ball after air ball in the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals as a rookie and then use that as fuel for the rest of his career. Number 8 craved above all else to be preeminent, and sought to get there by any means necessary whatever the cost. This borderline psychopathic way of thinking mirrored the cities personality, and it just so happened to manifest as he performed at his best when the lights were brightest. All the while he was rubbing it in the face of outsiders who could only dream of shining like southern California’s son.
“When you first come in the game they try to play you, then you drop a couple of hits look how they wave to you.”
This has been a weird season for all parties concerned. At first we were confronted with the sobering fact that father time had finally bested Kobe. We were greeted with much derision from opposing fan bases and talking heads as our star lost his luster. Then Bryant announced his plan to retire at the end of the season and almost immediately it became a love fest. The Mamba always had their respect, and now it seems he has won their hearts. In an attempt to give him his flowers while he can still smell them, they have greeted Kobe with adoration and standing ovations in every arena across America. A country wide tip of the cap of sorts. An acknowledgment of greatness. Welcome to the party. The bandwagon is full but you are more than welcome to run behind it.
“I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back to me that’s a win win”
How do you inspire a generation? By reaching for immortality as an unattainable figure. I was 8 years old when #8 came into the league. I was brash, thirsty to learn, and in a never ending battle to prove I was better and smarter than not only those in my age group but all persons in front of me. As my Ugandan mother always said to me, good is not good enough, your good must be their great and your great unfathomable to them. For better or worse, as Kobe wagged his tongue in the face of every onslaught of competitors he sought to embarrass, I too made no attempts to hide the light of my arrogance behind a thin veil of humility. Like he, I knew how much work it took to get where I was, the painful work accrued for every accomplishment. The Mamba respected those who worked. Ask Gary Vitti, longtime Laker’s trainer, and he will tell you there were a number of players with more talent. You proved your worth to Kobe by eking out every ounce of talent you possessed, because that is how he ascended to the heights he found himself at. He was not one to coddle, to hold your hand and guide you gently into the wading pool as you attempted to find your sea legs. No, Kobe Bean Bryant threw himself into the tempest with the aim to best leviathan as a way to test his limits. In the course of that, he forced future competitors and wide-eyed youth growing up in southern California to do more and be more, or risk the unthinkable, losing.
We are his legacy. He was a one man LA King and we are his heirs.
“One day it too will pass on its legacy through the seeds it dropped to the ground and as the wind carries these seeds throughout the land and they take root a new life will begin for each one of them as they stand as a monument to the one that came before…”
Jotham Kabuye can be found curled up in a ball somewhere clutching his Kobe Xs to his chest and crying… or you can follow him on twitter and instagram @jothamkitara.