Something feels very different about Kobe Bryant passing away on Sunday at the age of 41.
For me, and anyone that knows me would attest to this, my biggest passion in life is undoubtedly sports.
My mom and grandfather took me to my first Orioles game when I was six years old. The Ravens won their first Super Bowl when I was 10 and they quickly became a Baltimore institution for me in the same way that the Colts were for the previous generation. Growing up in Baltimore, rooting for the Ravens is what we did. Ravens home games and watching them Sundays have and continue to be an enormous part of my life and the lives of so many others here in Charm City.
Basketball, though, was different for me. I wasn’t “brought up” as a basketball fan. In fact, I had probably been playing baseball for years and years before I even picked up a basketball.
I didn’t start following basketball because I had a home NBA team. I started following basketball because I grew to love the Lakers.
Phil Jackson. Shaq. The colors. Hollywood.
And most of all, Kobe Bryant.
There are so many Lakers memories over the years with Kobe right at the center.
I remember the Three-peat with Kobe, Phil, Shaq, D-Fish, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Samaki Walker, Brian Shaw.
Teaming up with Karl Malone and Gary Payton and losing that year to Larry Brown and the Pistons.
I still remember Kobe vs. LeBron arguments with high school classmates in the mid 2000s.
Phil leaving. The feud with Smush Parker. The game vs the Suns when Kobe kept passing the ball as he made a passive aggressive point that he needed help if he was going to win again in LA.
Phil coming back. Kobe being booed on Opening Night in 2007 after he asked to be traded. His reaction after the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol. Losing to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals. Beating the Magic, and then getting revenge on the Celtics in 2010.
Kobe, Pau, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic.
The M-V-P chants with him at the free throw line at Staples Center.
We’ve seen and will continue to see more tributes than we’ve ever seen for any athlete in my lifetime. And rightfully so. But those tributes will focus on all the positive times for Kobe. The great and perhaps untold story about Kobe is that it wasn’t all positive with him. It wasn’t 20 years of roses and championships in Los Angeles.
Kobe LOVED Los Angeles. The Lakers are such a global brand and many people do not realize that the Lakers are run very much as a family business moreso than perhaps any other professional sports franchise. He loved the Buss family and they loved him.
As much as he loved the city, the fans, and the organization, he still asked to be traded in 2007.
Because the only thing that Kobe loved more than all of that was winning.
Think about that. Think about Ray Lewis demanding to be traded from Baltimore in the prime of his career. Or Peyton Manning demanding to be traded from the Colts. Or Derek Jeter wanting to leave the Yankees.
But Kobe had an extreme desire to win, and he was never going to be okay with losing.
I’ll never forget Kobe’s postgame interview after he played his first game with Pau Gasol later that same season. He was so happy because he knew he had a real chance to win again with the Lakers.
Kobe overcame the Denver allegations and continued a loving marriage with his wife Vanessa, who he had been with since high school.
Kobe overcame his differences with Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq left the Lakers and for a few years, they would barely speak on the court as opponents. However, they went on to be great friends, with Shaq referring to Kobe and his daughter as his brother and niece after hearing the news of their passing.
Kobe overcame his feud with Phil Jackson. Phil left the Lakers and wrote a book in which he called Kobe uncoachable. Just a few years later, Phil returned and partnered with Kobe to win two more championships together.
He overcame his trade demand and the lean years in 2005 and 2006 to go on to make it to three more NBA Finals, winning his 4th and 5th ring and his only MVP award in 2008.
He overcame his loss to the Celtics – the Lakers most bitter and hated rival – in the 2008 Finals, only to return two years later and defeat them by winning games 6 and 7 at home at the Staples Center. He was the MVP of those Finals.
Kobe was a different breed. A breed that this generation – my generation – could stand to see more of.
With all due respect to the current NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and all the rest, Kobe was from a different generation. Kobe wouldn’t be out socializing the night before a game with his opponents. Kobe wouldn’t be buddy buddy with opposing players in the minutes after a tough lose.
Kobe had an extreme desire to win. He was the ultimate competitor. Kobe tore his achilles and went on to shoot free throws in an era where players sit out for load management.
Kobe is the reason when, on the rare occasion I head to the gym for a workout, I struggle to make it through without heading to the basketball court to get some shots up.
That drive and competitiveness that Kobe proudly displayed are characteristics that are not just limited to the sports arena.
The best business leaders that I’ve had the honor to be around have that same drive.
Those who decide to start their own business and follow their passion and refuse to accept “no” for an answer have that same drive. They possess that same competitive spirit that Kobe had.
Those who dedicate their lives to different causes and charities and change in the world have that same mindset.
Kobe has and will continue to serve as an example and role model to all of us in so many different ways in so many walks of life.
I’m grateful for Kobe for introducing me to such a great game.
For introducing me to the purple and gold (and the Sunday whites).
For showing me and billions of others, through his actions, what a competitor really looks like.
And if Kobe Bean Bryant had such an impact on a kid from Baltimore who to this day can barely dribble a basketball, imagine all the other lives around the world that he impacted and will continue to impact in the years and generations to come.