Since Kobe died on Sunday, my mind has been unable to process this tragedy properly. Being at work when I got the news made it worse, as I could not allow my emotions to take control while there was still a paper to bring out.
Scrolling through my timeline on Twitter, I saw a person I followed quote the now-infamous TMZ article that broke the story, saying, "EXCUSE THE (EXPLETIVE) OUT OF ME."
I glanced at the TMZ headline out of curiosity to see what would elicit such a response – and then kept scrolling. I simply couldn't grasp what I had read. I kept scrolling and read two or three other posts before it registered.
I went back and read it over, slowly: "Breaking: Kobe Bryant Has Died In A Helicopter Crash."
I did not believe it. If Kobe had died, my timeline would have been flooded with other posts. I glanced right, at "trending topics" – and there it was, from 1-5: Kobe, RIP, Mamba...
I began to cuss.
"Oh (expletive), oh (expletive)."
It hit me like a sledgehammer in the chest. My idol, my hero was dead.
I've been asked by loved ones how and why I am so emotionally attached to Kobe, who didn't even know I existed. The answer is not easily explained.
Basketball never held much interest for me. I helped Hillview College qualify for Intercol for the first time in over a decade in 2003, and remain an avid football player– community leagues, but mostly recreational.
But today I love basketball more than football, even if I can't play it.
Being a sports fan, of course you knew about him, but my admiration for Kobe started around 7.30 pm. Not having cable TV, the only footage of Kobe that I saw was whenever he won the TV6 Play of the Day and you would see him do something amazing.
On any fast break where there was no defender blocking the pathway to the basket, you could always count on a spectacular 360-degree dunk from the Afro-headed Kobe. There would be no layup or ordinary dunk from this extraordinary player. Panache, immaculate footwork, insane handles, overconfidence and a wet, wet jumper – that was Kobe.
Supporting the Lakers from Trinidad is not for fair-weather fans. Games tipping off close to midnight and ending around 2am – for the working man, it was a challenge. But to see a Michael Jordan replica with an insane ability to get crazy hot from the field and go into video-game-god mode was well worth the zombie mode you'd be in as a fan the next day.
It's always said that Los Angeles Laker fans have been spoiled over the years – Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal. All these stars brought a championship to LA. Kobe brought five.
But it was not seeing him win two without Shaq – and destroy the notion he could not lead a team to a title – that made my admiration for him grow. It might sound a bit morbid, but my fascination with Kobe grew tenfold after seeing him tear his Achilles tendon in the 2012-2013 season. At 34, after the David Stern-vetoed Chris Paul trade in 2011, Kobe finally had the talent around him again to make a championship run and capture that elusive sixth NBA title – to match his idol, Jordan.
It was not to be. Dwight Howard had back problems the entire season and missed six games, Pau Gasol got injured and missed 33 games and Steve Nash missed 32. A coaching change early in the season after a poor start increased the pressure on Kobe. He was the only one who remained healthy – until the 80th game of the season.
After a poor start under Mike Brown, Lakers replaced him with the more offensive-minded Mike D'Antoni but the team did not gel quickly, and injuries derailed what could have been a successful season. Lingering out of the top eight after 55 games, Kobe guaranteed Lakers would make the playoffs and sounded a warning that they would be coming for the title.
That was enough assurance for me. But what Kobe did in those remaining games, I don't think any other NBA superstar could or would do. Till he tore his Achilles tendon in that fateful game against Golden State Warriors, Kobe averaged almost 46 minutes a night, while putting up incredible numbers and slowly lifting Lakers up the table. In that game against the Warriors that basically was the last time the world would see an elite Kobe Bryant, the "Black Mamba" had already logged 44 minutes and 54 seconds before blowing his Achilles with three minutes still to go in the game. He was on course to play virtually the entire 48 minutes of the game!
For Laker fans who followed the team that season, this mad brilliance was fascinating to behold. At an age when many NBA players were done with their careers, Kobe was playing the entire game and chasing his goals. He had chosen "24" on his jersey for a reason. It was one more than 23 (Jordan's iconic number) – but Kobe was still one shy of Jordan's six trophies.
ESPN reporter Baxter Holmes wrote in 2016 about that 2012-2013 season. He said Kobe's knees would be drowning in ice buckets after games; he would be unable to walk, and the locker room began fearing for his health. Teammate Antawn Jamison described Kobe's movements after games as being like "a 105-year-old woman."
No coach or teammate could convince Kobe he needed to play fewer minutes. No coach dared take him out of the game. He was chasing a ghost, and knew this was his last chance to catch Jordan. This was not Mamba mentality – this was madness, unsustainable. When the inevitable happened, no one was really surprised.
Kobe's death came more of a surprise than his Achilles injury.
But as a fan, to see someone willing to sacrifice everything – his body, his family life (how could he play with his daughters after playing himself to death on the court?) – to achieve his goal was nothing short of inspirational. Kobe became Kobe not because of his talent, but through his dedication to his craft and willingness to put in the extra work to be better than everyone else.
Household names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were given front-row seats to Kobe's tremendous work ethic alongside him on Team USA at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They got a first-hand view of the beast and what made him so deadly. After leading the team to a gold medal in China, Kobe went on to win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 – his last NBA titles. LeBron, Wade, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant would soon take over the NBA, but Kobe's influence can be seen in them and others.
After he retired, many people asked him whether he missed the NBA and his answer remained the same. He did not. He gave everything, and there was nothing else to give. Maybe that's why he was so successful post-NBA career. There were no regrets, even if 24 did not surpass 23.
Kobe was worth close to US$600 million when he died. He had won five NBA titles, two finals MVP, a league MVP and countless other accolades.
But this did not define him. He was fluent in three languages and could speak at least five. He won an Oscar after he retired. He never settled and always set new goals to improve himself.
In our personal lives as fans, we also strive for greatness and have our own goals. We watch movies and see beautiful and charming actors flaunt lavish lifestyles and it seems beyond our ordinary 8-4 or 9-5 lives. Sometimes we hope for a better life by wishing and praying, yet reach no closer to our goals. We prioritise a lot of frivolous activities instead of using that time wisely to work towards our dreams.
As a fan, I've not put some of the things I've learned from following his career fully into practice. But the shot clock has not expired yet. 3-2-1 Kobeeeee!