Return to the NBA Journey, Week Fourteen: You're Welcome

The TSFJ family mourns the loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who died tragically in a helicopter crash on the morning of January 26th. He was 41 tears old. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who passed away, and we send them strength to deal with this horrific situation.

Song of the Week: Kobe Bryant on NBA Courtside Main Menu Theme

There were two forms of Kobe Bryant. No, I'm not relegating this to a juxtaposition between #8 and #24. This is bigger than the afro-wearing skinny wing with a penchant for baseline jams growing into the game's most cerebral player who conquered opponents with precise moves and actions. There is Kobe Bryant The Player and Kobe Bryant After Retirement. At the end of this, hopefully it's understood why the former had to protect the latter - this making the latter that more appreciated.

Kobe: The Player

Most of the story on Kobe's playing career is known almost to memorization. Selected 13th in the loaded 1996 Draft by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Lakers that night. What's overlooked there is that the reason he was traded is because the Hornets' front office (per his words on the
Knuckleheadz podcast) believed they had no use for him on their team at the time.

Greatness begins with some measure of slight or failure. Imagine being good enough to be a professional athlete as a teenager only to be told that the team that selected you felt you were more valuable as an asset to acquire another player. Mamba Mentality didn't start the year Kobe coined that nickname. It started there, as he stated he went to the gym that night because he was so heated.

His first two years were spent on the bench. Then came the airballs in the playoffs. Then, through that established mentality, Kobe became an All-Star and champion multiple times over with accolades and statistics that more than fill Basketball Reference's page on him.

The dynamics of his player-to-player relationships are also well-documented. Kobe didn't have many friends while he was playing. He even shut out newfound friend

Tracy McGrady early in their careers in pursuit of a championship. A heavy obsession with becoming the best basketball player he could be caused Kobe to put on this impenetrable armor. It is in this fortification that he built an empire and legend through sheer skill. This is edified by these words from TSFJ editor Mya Melody:

As fans, we remember throwing paper into the trash can and yelling, "Kobe!" Or celebrating our 24th birthday by calling it our, "Kobe year."

Kobe Bryant was really good at basketball. I know that's understood because he was a professional and all all-time great at the sport. But there are and were more athletically gifted players than Kobe and Kobe is better than most, if not all, of them. That's where the love and "stanning" of Kobe resides. Every move he made was with purpose. Every step, dribble, fake, pivot and shot was practiced so many times that basketball wasn't an impulsive sport to Kobe. He had become so calculated that he processed the sport at a speed that made him appear to be making things up.

Greatness is not without purpose. And greatness requires sacrifice. Kobe gave up likeability to pursue greatness. His purpose was such that needed his focus so locked in on getting better all the time. Kobe, in superhero terms, is Batman among the Justice League. At his core, he's human. But he's string together so many superhuman feats that he rose to be seated as an equal amongst near-deities and be feared, respected and lauded all the same.

Kobe: After Retirement

Looking back at Kobe's 60-point farewell game and the four years after, he left all that competitive armor on the Staples Center floor that night. With each of his 50 field goal attempts, a piece of it fell off. A weight was gradually being lifted - the only way he had the legs to shoot 50 times at 37 years old. And his final two words as a player, "Mamba out," seem bigger than just some sent-witty mic drop of a line. The Black Mamba was out. Done. There was no more desire to be that man again.

Then, something happened that most didn't see. Kobe began to open up. He started the Mamba Sports Academy. You could see him talking more often about basketball and bring willing to teach players he had just been competing against a couple years before. That tether to his humanity, despite the dungeon Kobe kept it locked inside for two decades, was still there and still strong. So what stood in place on a ruthless competitor was a massive well if walking knowledge. And most importantly, Kobe was willing to share. No more secrets. No more looking for an edge or learning a players tendencies to use later. Kobe was here to help. After being shunned for so long for an unwillingness to assist, Kobe turned all his energy into passing the game along. And for that man to rain to become a celestial being, get there and sit among the stars, yet become dedicated to helping others grow makes a mark bigger than 81 points could.

"Should" is a dangerous word to use because it denies a level of entitlement on an unpredictable act. Kobe should be here, teetering on the line of showing haughty disapproval with today's game while simultaneously helping the players growing it. He should be championing women's and girls' basketball, assisting in exposure and equal treatment for them. There should still be stories popping up of players from everywhere seeking his advice. Gianna should be here, progressing as a player to where Kobe becomes "GiGi's Dad." That's why "should" is dangerous. Because though the aforementioned things should happen, they won't. However, Kobe lived and left an impeccable mark on this world.

We will miss you, Kobe Bryant. I'm sure you can hear us saying, "Thank you." I know I can hear you saying, "You're welcome."

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