KobeBryantEither you love Kobe Bryant or you hate Kobe Bryant. Or you realize how much you truly appreciate Kobe Bryant after nearly losing Kobe Bryant. 

I miss Kobe Bryant. There, I said it. You happy? I miss Kobe Bryant.

To understand how we arrived here, we must first backtrack. The lights were dim in Park, a D.C. nightclub only blocks away from the White House. A friend of mine invited me to her birthday party to take part in an open bar while feeling “fake-famous” behind a velvet rope and one mountain of a security guard. The music was festive, catering to a crowd celebrating the impending arrival of spring and summer. And, most importantly, the drinks were free. Suddenly, looking up at a random TV, Kobe’s mug filled the screen, only this time the mood appeared different.

Bean’s eyes were bloodshot red, as if he’d been crying. Instantly putting two and two together, something was off. Drastically off.

From memory, the only time I had seen Bryant shed tears was during a press conference soon after the sexual assault allegations that nearly derailed his career a decade earlier made headlines. Eventually the captions on the TV confirmed that Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles. Season done. Playoffs done. Career as clouded as it had been since the aforementioned court case. Nearly everyone became fixated on the TV as endless loops of the play which ended his season and his hobbled walk off the court peppered the screen. The entire mood in the club changed that night for literally 20 minutes. I kid you not.

That’s when it hit me. I took Kobe Bryant for granted.

He was drafted in 1996, only four months after my 10th birthday. So that means, in terms of my basketball life, Kobe Bryant’s been a part of it for seven years longer than he hasn’t. To hell with the Lakers, and truth be told, my fan relationship with Bryant has been cordial at best. But he’s always been there. My appreciation for Kobe only equals his head-scratching tendencies where I’ve wondered aloud hundreds of times, “What the FUCK is he doing?” But he’s always been there, being himself without an ounce of remorse for who it offended.

My opinion of the Lakers moving forward is irrelevant, similar to my stance in the eternal “Kobe or LeBron” debate — which has gone on to replace “Nas or Jay Z” as the most volatile question to ask in a barbershop since the turn of the century. An injury was never in the cards. Quietly, since last April, I’ve kept personal tabs on Kobe’s rehab. Initially, the prognosis read a return before the All-Star break. Then it was Christmas. Now, the possibility has been semi-jokingly hinted he could return to action by the end of the month — with outrageous predictions saying this Friday, ironically against the team and on the very floor the next chapter of his career began, the Warriors at Staples.