There are certain things in life that we choose to not accept – things which have long passed us or are due to pass us soon. Whether one is a skateboarding teen that suddenly hears calls to stop – to cease the thing they’ve loved to do for so very long – or someone who’s told that being too slow means that they shouldn’t at least try to run the race. To choose to stop because one is told to stop is essentially limiting yourself from reaching your full potential and ripping away a small piece of your soul. To cease simply means that you’ve accepted the past for what it is, instead of fighting every tooth and nail in a hope to be able to hold onto the thing you so dearly love. It takes an even stronger person to succeed once they’ve fought to keep that piece of themselves intact.
Perhaps never has an NBA superstar’s life story been more evident of such traits more than Kobe Bryant’s – the man who’s been hearing calls to give in to the doubts for almost four seasons now. In the final season of Phil Jackson’s tenure as the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench messiah, those calls were slowly beginning to pour in after he delivered a number of less than stellar performances. Most memorably, those chants came loudest during the 2010-2011 playoff series versus the Dallas Mavericks. To this day, it remains as one of the biggest embarrassments in Lakers’ history, as they were swept off the floor with quick ferocity. No matter how Andrew Bynum looked after throwing a furious elbow towards an unsuspecting J.J. Barea, and how badly Pau Gasol seemingly went through the motions without the fire which had evidently gone missing that May, there was only one thing that truly stood out in the series.
Bryant, the best player in the NBA – the man regarded as the alpha dog within the league that stood before his feet for so long – had lost his grip on the throne. To fans, media and players alike, it looked to be the end of the swagger, excitement and mystique that both terrorized and amazed the NBA over that past decade.
Simply put, it felt like we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the Black Mamba.
The Dallas series fuelled a fire in Bryant which has burned white hot ever since. It is an inferno which still delivers excitement to the eyes of his fans and terrorizes every opponent that is put in front of him. It is a fire that refuses to hear the demands that his sneakers be turned in and his jersey retired. No, Bryant is not ready to quit because he has one more ring that he still persistently chases for his collection – not because he wants to be better than Michael Jordan, but instead, merely to assure himself that he will be mentioned in every conversation that takes place regarding Jordan and the greats, even a century from now.
Much like Bryant, many of us wish to be remembered as someone special. Whether it be the loving parent, the class clown, the intellectual, or the risk taker – we want to be remembered as something that we all seemingly share with every human being alive. In Bryant’s mind, it is to be remembered as a legendary basketball player and have his name, his legacy and his impact on the court immediately snake its way into the mind of a stranger. It is to synonymize your name with the cognitive fragments that make up the thoughts which shape one’s understanding and associations attached with that of the sport of basketball.
As one watches Bryant perform his craft on the court over the past few seasons, it is an expression of defiance painted on his face as he’s taking off the ground, driving by defenders or pulling up for one of his trademark jump shots that immediately stands out. Personally, I believe those moments entail the morphing of his perception – the birth of a presence he receives as another doubter of his ability. In his eyes, you see the will he still has to prove himself and forever fuse his talents into millions of memories shared across the world amongst his fans.
Bryant refuses to accept that he’s not as good as he used to be – no longer the top dog on the planet if even only for a few hours on a concrete basketball court. As the player – at the very least – who draws favourable comparisons as the closest emulation of the greatest player of all time, can we blame him?
No matter what we tell him, Bryant will always come back stronger and more defiant of Father Time and his aching joints, banged up knees and arthritis in his hands. At the end of the day, to believe that Kobe Bryant will allow a ruptured Achilles to stop him is to believe that a child will not try to outrun another if challenged to a race.
To Bryant, life has presented yet another challenge that threatens to take his first love away before he’s ready to accept it has passed him. Through extensive rehab, the Black Mamba is crouched – as his readied body is set to explode like a bullet from a state of complete rest.
We will never be rid of Bryant – as he grows more determined with every voice that stands in front of him as a critic. As fans of basketball, we must appreciate the connection he has managed to developed with the people who’ve never met him, shaken his hand or looked into his eyes, if even for a moment
Bryant’s chasing after something that he finds precious – an elusive sixth ring that will further cement his legacy for an eternity. So for now, we might as well sit back and enjoy the show.