For sports fans, January 26, 2020, is a date where you remember where you were when you first heard the news of the death of Kobe Bean Bryant. I work the overnight shift on the weekend. So, when I woke up to get ready for work, my phone was on fire. When I came to and realized what happened, I couldn’t believe it. As it finally set in, I instantly filled with regret. Let me explain to you why people (like myself) hated Kobe Bryant for so long. Then, let me tell you why we confused hate for admiration.
Fondly, I remember being a teenager in Richmond, VA, late into the night, screaming as I felt the Lakers were cheating the Kings. That’s when I first uttered the words, “I hate Kobe Bryant.” I hated Kobe Bryant because he wasn’t only arrogant, but he could back it up as well. It’s one thing be that guy mouthing off, but it’s another thing to be that guy mouthing off and backing it up. Instead of being an annoying gnat you can swat away, Kobe was a wasp that could sting you if you hit him. So, you have to sit there and take it.
Indeed, people hated Kobe because of his work ethic. He worked so hard that Kobe’s work ethic its own mentality. It’s called the Mamba Mentality. You are not only one of the deadliest specimens on Earth, but you cannot be outdone either. It’s not enough to be the best. You have to be the best and ensure that no one else can come and take it your spot. That’s how Kobe approachable basketball. Mamba Mentality being the best and not letting you come close to my level.
Yes, people hated Kobe because he achieved so much. Whether you believe he is better than LeBron James or not, you still have to measure James against Bryant. In his own right, Kobe Bryant reached the rarified air of the Michael Jordan comparison. Before a player can compare to Michael, they have to pass the Kobe test first. The Black Mamba is the GOAT gatekeeper. If you cannot measure up to him, then you cannot be in the conversation. Right or wrong, it’s the truth of the matter. Kobe himself would probably tell you the same thing.
Lastly, people hated Kobe because he was able to adapt and advance. Bryant has two numbers retired with the Lakers: 8 and 24. In his first ten years in the league, Kobe wore the number 8. He won three NBA championships, but there was always the what-if. While he did put up high numbers, there was still the feeling that Shaq was the man.
In his final ten years in the league, Kobe wore the number 24. He only won two championships, but there was no question who the man was on those teams. Kobe successfully transitioned from being Robin to Batman, which is not something many people can do. He proved that he could win in more ways than one.
I never hated Kobe. When it comes down to it, I was jealous of Kobe. Jealous of his work ethic, drive, ability, and swagger. After his retirement, I admired all these traits of Kobe. Most importantly, I admired his love for his family and his relationship with GiGi. In the days following his death, it’s clear just how much Kobe means to the sports world. No, it’s clear how much Kobe means to the world.
Kobe Bean Bryant transcended sports and became an icon. So, if I could say one thing to Kobe, it would be “thank you.” I never really hated you, Kobe. I always admired you, but it was not something I could openly admit until the end. Thank you for being an example of excellence. Rest in peace, Kobe.