As a Laker fan, Kobe Bryant was never my favorite player.
I grew up in the 1980s watching “Showtime.” As an inside player, I gravitated toward Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, though I loved how Magic Johnson could play guard in a power forward body.
After those players retired I suffered through the mid 90s. Then they traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte for some kid that went into the draft straight out of high school.
His name: Kobe Bryant. Little did I know he would restore the Lakers to their 80s glory.
He won five titles in his 20 seasons in L.A., and was a contender in all but the last few years. Like most athletes who played that hard for that long, his body began to betray him. That said, no other NBA guard had played 20 seasons before Bryant.
The mantel of the “face of the league” has long been handed to Steph Curry. With 402 3s, many from far beyond most players’ “desperation in a game of horse” range, he has thrilled fans all season long as his team set the NBA standard with 73 victories.
But for one night, with playoff hopes for this season a long distance memory, Bryant channeled his prime time “Black Mamba” personna one last time. Yes, he put up 50 shots, but he scored 15 points in the Lakers’ 17-2 run to the his final game with a victory.
I watched Bryant’s postgame presser, and watched him smoothly and fluently answer questions in multiple languages. His time in Europe as his father played professionally there are part of the reason, but there are a lot of players who can’t fluently answer questions in the one language they know.
I know Bryant is as hated by as many as he is loved, if not more. But one cannot help but respect what he did on a basketball court.