It's a touchy subject and one that, as I'm writing this, I reflect on just how lucky I am for the life that I have. Kobe Bryant. On this day two years ago, the world lost an individual who though he was known for his performance on the court, what he was planning on doing off the court would have had a much more significant impact.
Being from Charlotte, North Carolina and growing up watching the Bobcats and eventually the Hornets, you grow up around a fanbase with a unique perspective on Kobe Bryant. I'm not here to say who is right and wrong because I was not there when it happened, so I cannot develop a credible opinion on the topic. However, if you ask a Charlotte Native why the Charlotte Hornets traded away the eventual Five-Time NBA Champion for Vlade Divac, they would tell you Kobe refused to play for any organization other than the Los Angeles Lakers. There are deferring opinions on whether or not the Hornets knew of this before drafting him. Those who are not Charlotte Natives would tell you that the Charlotte Hornets were just a stupid organization (Which, until the drafting of LaMelo Ball, I would agree that the Hornets were stupid).
Love him or hate him; there is no denying the greatness of Kobe Bryant. Just two seasons after Michael Jordan's Bulls completed their last 3-Peat, Kobe turned around and did the same thing from 2000-2002, which is the last time this has been done. Some players claim to be the Greatest of All-Time that have built teams to replicate this since 2002 but have failed at doing so, which is another reason why, behind Michael Jordan, I consider Kobe to be the Greatest of All-Time.
Off the court, Kobe worked hand in hand with non-profits that supported cancer research, after-school programs, women's sports, natural disaster relief, minimizing youth homelessness, and so much more. As mentioned before, his impact off the court was en route to be more impactful than his impact on the court.
I started watching NBA basketball during the 2012 NBA Finals and fell in love with that Oklahoma City team. Kobe had just two seasons prior won his last championship, and the Lakers were on their way to the organization's longest playoff drought, so I never had much of a reason to pay attention to Kobe. I knew of his greatness, but I was caught up in following Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to appreciate the final years of Kobe's playing career.
There is only one game that I can recall that Kobe played in that I watched all the way through, and that was his very last game. It was not until then that I began to understand just how great Kobe was, and it was not because of his 61 point performance at 37 years old. Where it clicked for me was seeing just how many big names had come to see Kobe play for the last time. Following that game, it was all people could talk about for months. Then after his death, I was exposed to all these other things that Kobe did to impact so many people.
Though I did not watch Kobe often, his death impacted me. It reminded me, and I'm sure many others, that athletes are human. It reminded me to appreciate an athlete's greatness. People say I am crazy that Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker are my favorite NBA players, but the two are still performing at a high level, and they have brought me so much joy over the last ten years.
Sports are meant to be enjoyed, even though being a Chicago Bears fan is stressful, and it is because of Kobe, I take steps back and appreciate the teams I love.