Kobe took Eddie Jones’ spot as the Lakers starting shooting guard, thus necessitating the former Temple star’s trade to the Charlotte Hornets.
Jones was a two-time NBA all-star before being shipped to Charlotte and obviously was a favorite of mine for this two-way game—he can play defense and score with the best of them. Who could ever forget his free throw line dunk against Alton Lister!
And who did the Purple and Gold trade to obtain the rights for the Kobester? None other than your favorite Serbian, Vlade Divac.
OK, Vlade was no all-star, but he was a loveable goofball center that can dribble and pass like a guard and rebound and score points in the interior with aplomb. You can say, he’s a poor man’s Arvydas Sabonis.
There’s seems to be a recurring theme here. Yes, guilty as charged. I admit I’ve been a Laker fan since the days of the Showtime Lakers. Despite his well-known aloofness, I adored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actually feel he’s the Batman to Magic Johnson’s Robin during the early years of LA’s dynastic run in the ‘80s.
Worthy may not have deserved his inclusion in the Top 50 NBA players of all time, but he wasn’t nicknamed Big Game James for nothing. Byron Scott was your prototypical two-guard, as he could shoot consistently from the outside, was a rugged defender, and was a guaranteed bucket on the fastbreak.
I also admit that in Kobe’s feud with Shaq I sided with the Diesel. Shaq was larger than life, the life of the party, and destroyed everyone with his brute strength inside the court.
Kobe, in contrast, was more of a stern principal than frat boy, maniacal in his approach to the game, and used more finesse and his unworldly athleticism to make plays.
In his early years in the NBA, he also went out of his way to prove he’s the next coming of Black Jesus Michael Jordan. That’s why he shot those two air balls against the Nuggets in the playoffs in his rookie year and hence his self-anointed nickname the Black Mamba.
Shaq was traded to the Heat after Kobe intimated he’d be signing with the crosstown rivals Clippers if the big man stayed.
The Heat had an up-and-coming Dwyane Wade to pair with Shaq and the two would win the Larry O’Brien trophy two years later. Too bad Jones was shipped to Memphis by then.
Wade is another player I stacked higher in the totem pole than Kobe. He co-existed with Shaq and more importantly seemed a more affable person. More on Wade in another column.
Kobe also hit a rough patch stemming from rape allegations in Colorado in 2003. A neighbor of mine reminded me of that the day Kobe died, but my quick retort was No. 8 admitted to the “affair” and publicly apologized for it on TV beside his lovely wife Vanessa, who totted what seemed like a million-dollar “forgive me” ring on her finger.
For me, the Kobe reclamation project began in earnest when he switched from numero ocho to No. 24. He might’ve worn No. 8 when he scored 81 points against the Raptors, but him switching jersey numbers might’ve been the start of a more mature Kobe.
He became more of a leader, trusted his teammates more, and in fact appeared to be in better terms with them (but don’t tell that to Smush Parker), and didn’t dominate the ball as much.
A midseason trade that can only be described as the biggest heist in NBA history brought Pau Gasol to Los Angeles in lieu of Kwame Brown and with the big Spaniard in toe—along with the likes of Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Trevor Ariza and then Metta World Peace—the Lakers would win titles in 2009 and 2010.
That showed that Kobe didn’t just piggybacked on Shaq’s greatness, he was also great in his own right. What’s more, he now had five rings to O’Neal’s four.
One last gasp with the most dysfunctional super team ever assembled (Kobe, Gasol, the player formerly known as Ron Artest, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard), mercifully ended with an Achilles injury for Kobe and a first-round exit for the Lakers and with that Kobe’s dream of catching Jordan’s six NBA championships went poof.
I watched that game on TV and marveled how Kobe still managed to make both free throws, season-ending injury and all, to preserve the Lakers’ win and secure the seventh seed against an old rival in the San Antonio Spurs.
It was an obvious jab on the Celtics’ Paul Pierce. You might recall the Boston star feigned an injury for what turned out to be bathroom break during the 2008 NBA Finals.
Kobe would have his retirement tour in 2016. It was an uneventful year for the Lakers as there were no championship to pursue and even nary a whiff of the playoff. It was a season basically to honor their star of 20 years.
Lakers fans could’ve slept through the 2016 season and no one would blame them. Until April 27, 2017. That’s when Kobe scored 60 points in his final NBA game, willing his ragtag team to a win after being 10 points down with three minutes and change left against the Utah Jazz.
In retirement, Kobe retreated to a more private life. It has been well documented the past weeks since his passing how he was such an inspiration for the younger NBA players for his Mamba Mentality as they call it, but what I admired most about Kobe now was his dedication to his wife and daughters.
The genesis of Kobe using helicopters was actually in an effort to cut down on commute time between his home in Newport Beach and games and practices in Los Angeles, as he opted to spend his precious time with family than be stuck in traffic.
He also opened the Mamba Sports Academy so he could coach not only his daughter Gianna, but also other girls about the sport he loved. Kobe, Gianna, and nine others were actually flying to a game last Jan. 26, when their chopper crashed in Calabasas, killing all of them including the pilot.
Which now begs the question why it took me a full month to pen this sort of requiem for the fallen Laker star.
The honest truth is it took me that long to grieve. It was a shock much like when Magic announced that he was diagnosed with HIV in 1991 during my sophomore year in college.
I never liked Kobe, but days after his untimely demise I realized that more than a basketball superstar he was a super dad. I read somewhere that Kobe would insist driving his daughters to school even during his playing days.
Now I try—emphasize in try—to enjoy driving my own kids to school and fetching them a few hours later, newspaper deadline be damned.
I also developed a keener interest in family activities after reading the other side of Mamba Mentality.
From cocky teen to four-time NBA champion. From a notorious ball hog to passing the ball to Artest/Peace for the winning 3-pointer in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics in 2010. From feuding to exchanging mea culpas with Shaq in 2018. From accused rapist to Father of the Year.
In a way Kobe’s life was a story of redemption and in death he truly became a bigger inspiration to all of us.
Mamba out, but will definitely not be forgotten.
Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet summed it best when he uttered, “Goodnight, sweet prince/and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”