How Absence Helped One Heart Grow Fonder Of Kobe Bryant

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.


When Kobe does return, so does some sense of controlled chaos we've operated under for well over a decade. Fans will overly praise every dribble. Detractors will find every stat imaginable to downplay his legacy. Yet, like it always has with Kobe, it's the moments that will define what we'll all soon be embarking on.

Like witnessing Kobe's gargantuan 2001 postseason — only two years after Phil Jackson sought to trade him for Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. The same postseason that included the cold-blooded 48-point, 16-rebound performance in the closeout game versus Sacramento where Bryant resembled the angel of death who killed "Uncle Charles" in Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Crossroads" video.

Or the 2002 All-Star Game MVP in his hometown of Philly ... where he was showered with boos as if he wore a Dallas Cowboys jersey accepting the trophy.

Or the "Shaq did it" comments that not only tainted his image for years (and still does in some regard), but helped provide one of the final nails in the Shaq-Kobe dynasty.

Or 62 on Dallas in three quartersOr 81.

Or when Ruben Patterson dubbed himself "the Kobe stopper." Then we never heard from him again.

Or the fact Kobe, for as all-time great a scorer as he is, has never shot over 47% for an entire season.

Or despite telling Bill Plaschke, "It's outlandish, the amount of irresponsibility people have, throwing out statements like that," in response to quitting allegations in 2006 versus the Suns in Game 7, thousands of basketball fans nationwide will always feel he did.

Or when Kobe saved America from certain doom in the 2008 Olympics — perhaps my all-time favorite Kobe moment.

Or what he did to Wilson Chandler in Madison Square Garden on February 2, 2009, which probably could've moonlighted as assault with a deadly weapon in some police precincts in New York.

Or Kobe barely shooting 40% in the 2010 NBA Finals and still winning Finals MVP (when Pau Gasol should've at least been co-MVP).

Or Kobe making no secret about his intention of winning the 2011 All-Star Game MVP in Los Angeles ... and then went out and did it.

Or how his mega-alpha personality, in various ways, ran both Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard out of Hollywood (and how convenient amnesia is developed when failing to mention neither big man was an angel by any means).

Or the fact this sadistic son of a bitch tore his Achilles in April, developed a sugar cookie addiction (just made that up), got in shape, flew back to Germany for another knee procedure and is now participating in full-contact practice before Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, Kobe's return holds precedence because it is the last "return" of his career (and who wouldn't want to see him and Nick Young on the floor together?). The day the season tipped off, I noted one of my pledges — as it has been for the last couple years — was to appreciate the elder statesmen of the game while still active. At 35, no "baseball sabbatical" resides in him, or soccer in Kobe's multi-sport fanciness. Nor is there a need to rehash the already-run-into-the-ground "more years behind him than in front" narrative.

Soon, the conversation around Kobe will transition to his jersey retirement ceremony and what number the Lakers will place in the rafters in honor of him, 8 or 24 — or both? From there arrives his eventual Hall of Fame induction speech and when the words, "Remember when Kobe ..." categorize every thought. We hear Charles Barkley say it religiously. Father Time is undefeated. It beat Mike. It eventually will with LeBron, unless my Kickstarter to spearhead a bionic legs transplant when he turns 33 gets completely funded. It is with Kobe now. Such constitutes a humbling realization even for a man with a guarded personality and legendary, venomous mean streak and work ethic to the game of basketball like himself.

Appreciating a titan of the game isn't always measured in the amount of cheers, Facebook statuses or tweets sent in support. Nope. Half of the time, it's not about being a fan of a player at all. That's subjective. What's objective is being irreplaceable. Becoming so intertwined with a passion to the point where it's impossible to imagine the game without your presence? Having others admit what he brought to the game helped elevate its appeal and impact? That's undeniable.

That's Kobe Bryant.

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