Growing up, it’s easy to look at someone as your role model. Your parents, teachers, astronauts, musicians, athletes, etc. See, I had a lot of role models, most of them athletes, but one thing I knew early on was that Kobe Bryant wasn’t one of these athletes. No sir. In fact, even as an 8-year-old, I knew I hated this man.

Why would an 8-year-old hate a player he barely knew anything about? Simple. That 8-year-old grew up an Allen Iverson fan. Staying up late every night watching 76ers highlights on the 10 PM Sportscenter broadcast; hiding under the covers and pretending to sleep when my mom opened my door. It was just something about watching a “little man” dominate a big mans game that had a little dude like me itching to go outside, crossover invisible defenders and put up 30 shots on my Fisher-Price hoop. Iverson was the embodiment of cool, he was Hip-Hop culture. He had the braids, the swagger, the baggy clothes. I was all in on the Answer.

So what did my love for Iverson have to do with my “hatred” of Kobe? Well it started in June 2001 when the Lakers and 76ers met in the NBA finals. The first NBA final I can recall watching. I wasn’t a fan of a particular team, but my Allen Iverson fandom made me a 76ers fan by default (thank god those days are over). Game 1 comes around and Iverson, the league MVP, explodes for 48 points, culminating in an upset victory for Philly in what I like to call the “Tyronn Lue” game. Late in the overtime session Iverson drains an impossible baseline jumper over Lue and the disrespect ensued. Iverson watched Lue trip and fall , STEPPED OVER him and STARED HIM down all while IN FRONT OF HIS OWN BENCH! It’s just so Iconic. How could you not want to be Allen Iverson in that moment?

The high of Game 1 was the only high for 76ers fans the rest of the series. Kobe, Shaq and the crew would go on to win 4 straight games in route to their 2nd consecutive NBA championship. It was the Shaq and Kobe show, indeed. Shaq dominating the post, Kobe draining impossible shots, making defenders look foolish. I was crushed. Watching my favorite athlete carry his team so far just to come up short. It hurt to watch. It was only natural that my “hatred” of the Los Angeles Lakers would begin.

When I say I “hated” the Lakers, let me be clear, I didn’t actually hate the Lakers. I hated what they had done to my favorite athlete. I knew I hated Kobe though, that was clear. Just something about the guy. See, Shaq was the joker, a 7-foot child trapped in the body of a man beast. Shaq made himself marketable and easy for anyone outside the painted area to like. Not Kobe though. Sure Kobe had his endorsements and fans, but the man was NOT easy to like. The consensus seemed to be that Kobe was selfish. Taking contested shots, wasn’t a great passer, wasn’t one for making friends and didn’t care at all what people thought of him.

A funny thing happened as I grew older though, my opinion on Kobe didn’t change. I still saw him as a ball hog, as unapproachable, and just an overall asshole. But then it all clicked. Man, all these years I’ve hated Kobe for all the same reasons I’ve admired Iverson. The difference was that Kobe Bryant was a winner. Kobe Bryant was a champion.

“Losing is losing, there aren’t different degrees of losing. You either win a championship or you’re s—. It’s very black & white to me”

Kobe championship.vadapt.664.high.81

I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the fact that the guy who was supposed to win kept winning. I didn’t like that my guy, the underdog, the “little guy” wasn’t winning. Guys like Kobe were always in the way and I took that personal because I saw a lot of myself in Iverson. Yes, I was just a kid, but kids dream big and when you see a guy that’s “not supposed” to succeed, succeed, you believe you can too.

Guys like Kobe? There are no guys like Kobe. Kobe Bryant is a supernova. People will compare Kobe to LeBron, Jordan, Magic, etc. because people love to debate, but Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant and there can be only one. Kobe Bryant is the kind of guy to rip your heart out and enjoy the agony on your face as he’s doing it. Kobe Bryant could suck the air out of a building and send thousands of people home is utter shock and disappointment. Kobe redefines what it means to be clutch. Kobe embarrasses the opposition.

Kobe could drop 62 on you in 3 quarters. Kobe could bank a running, off-balance three over a hall of famer at the buzzer to win the game. Kobe could score 81 points in 42 minutes of game time. Yes, 81 points! Most of us never saw Wilt score 100. Kobe Bryant is our Wilt. Seriously, 81 points in a game, 55 in the second half alone. It’s laughable. 81 came in an era where Kobe was arguably the most hated individual in the NBA, but even his biggest hater couldn’t look at 81 on the score sheet without shaking his head and appreciating the greatness.

This is where it’s hard to not get romantic about Kobe Bryant and what he’s meant to basketball. Watching Kobe go through his retirement tour this season, seeing all the standing ovations at opposing arenas, the love and admiration from current and former players, the gifts. Didn’t we all hate this man? Maybe, but we’d be dumb not to respect him. We’d be dumb not to respect the 4 AM wake up calls, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the 20 year commitment to one franchise, the final 2 minutes of a close game when cardiac Mamba would lock in and take over. Kobe Bryant oozes intensity, personifies hard work, and epitomizes a cold-blooded killer on the basketball court.

Thinking back on my favorite Kobe moment and so many come to mind. The one I’ll always remember was not a game itself, not a stat line, not a highlight, but rather a moment after the clock hit zero at the Staples center. The moment after the Lakers beat the Celtics in 7 to go back to back and Kobe held up 5 fingers, one for each championship ring he had now earned. 15 years of work went into that moment. Kobe could’ve stopped at 3 rings when Shaq left, but he was committed to more. He could’ve stopped at 4 when he finally got his first ring without Shaq, but greatness knows no boundaries. How does a man who can’t be satisfied achieve personal success? He keeps pushing until he can’t push anymore. That game, that series, that entire 2009-2010 campaign took every ounce of energy the man had left. When you want something, believe in yourself, deal with the aches and the pain because the end result will make it all worthwhile. It’s the Kobe system.

“Friends come and go, but banners hang forever”

Mamba, it’s only right that you spent your 20 year career in purple & gold, the colors of royalty. As a fan and admirer, thank you for teaching a generation of people that they can overcome all the ups and the downs, the aches and the falls. Thank you for showing us the art of locking in and closing, and that goes for all aspects of life, not just basketball. Thank you for showing many how to block out outside noise and be the best version of yourself that you can be. Most of all, thank you for teaching me to never be satisfied with anything other than GREATNESS.

You know they say “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ole days before you’ve actually left them,” well the good ole days are coming to close, but I bet you knew you were in them all along.

I always said my childhood would officially be over when Jeter and Kobe retired. Well here we are, April 13th 2016. The final day of the career of one of the greatest athletes to ever lace up sneakers and the final day of my childhood. Thanks, Kobe.

The good and the bad

You have given us

All that you have

How can you not be romantic about Kobe Bryant?