It’s never goodbye.
It’s never goodbye to the 5-year-old Kobe.
The one destined to be something else. The one who wore a Magic Johnson jersey and spent countless hours of watching NBA-Laker game tapes sent by his grandpa. The one who played football after school, and would still stay behind to play basketball. The one who built his love for the game by watching his dad train, not knowing that a fire was starting – the same fire that will make him the greatest Laker ever.
It’s never goodbye to the 18-year-old Kobe.
The one who became the prodigy. The one who won multiple state titles at Lower Merion High School. The one who kept breaking scoring records once held by the legendary Wilt Chamberlain. The one who made the tough decision of skipping college and enter the NBA at a young age. The one who Jerry West once called “the greatest athlete who came out of high school” but had to wait for his time with the LA Lakers under Del Harris. The one who was jeered after shooting airballs in a playoff game against Utah, not knowing it will only be a matter of time when he would become one of the most clutch players ever.
It’s never goodbye to the 24-year-old Kobe.
The one who became the superstar. The one who became a winner. The one of the few who accomplished a “three-peat,” destroying Philadelphia, Indiana, and New Jersey in the process. The one who still haunts Sacramento fans in their sleep even to this day. The one who was part of the most dominant team of the decade, and the best 1-2 punch in NBA history along with Shaquille O’Neal. The one who was ready to carry Michael Jordan‘s legacy – the heir to MJ’s air. The one who had everything, not knowing it will only be a matter of time before it will all be taken away from him.
It’s never goodbye to the 29-year-old Kobe.
The one who became the villain. The one who suffered humiliating defeats that humbled him. The one who, they say, singlehandedly destroyed the Lakers franchise as he forced Shaq and Phil Jackson out of LA. The one who was given the keys to a franchise, but failed to take it anywhere past the first round. The one who averaged 35.4 points per game, outscored an opponent in 3 quarters with 62 points against Dallas’ 61, and had the second-highest scoring game with 81 against Toronto, but was never considered a leader. The one who switched to 24 which signaled a new story where new records were both made and broken. But the one hasn’t figured it out yet. The one who almost forced his way out of LA, demanded a trade and almost left a city that loved him like it was their son, losing patience and will. Not knowing that it was only a matter of time before he became a winner again.
It’s never goodbye to the 32-year-old Kobe.
The one who became the hero. The one who became a champion on his own terms. The one who won his first without Shaq, cementing his legacy as a winner without needing him. The one who became a leader who pushed his teammates to the brink and fought for them when no one else would. The one who opened up more, trusted people more, and formed lifetime relationships with Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, and Phil. The one who finally figured out that no one man can ever win in a game made for men. The one who became the legend and showed what it means to be a Laker. The one who thought it was a start of another dynasty, not knowing it was only a matter of time before his end.
It’s never goodbye to the 36-year-old Kobe.
The one who broke apart. Torn Achilles. Torn rotator cuff. The one stolen from us because of numerous injuries. The one who thought it was over. But he was also the one who fought through it. The one who challenged Father Time head-on, and came back against all odds. The one still expected to score 30 points every time his frail body is on the court and ready to play. The one who passed MJ in the scoring record. The one who became a mentor to the new generation of Lakers. The one who had all the right to give up and still end a legendary story but didn’t because he owed it to us. The one who gave us one more Mamba Moment.
It’s never goodbye to the 37-year-old Kobe.
The one who decided that it was time. The one who found peace in farewell videos prepared by all the teams he torched before and serenity in gifts he received from rivals turned brothers. The one who saved his best for last. The one who said “Hell no” when his former teammate, Shaq, challenged him to score 50 in his last game. The one limited to 36 minutes but end up playing all but 6 minutes. The one who attempted 50 shots. and made 44%. The one who scored 60 at age 37. The one tired and weary in the end but still made the right plays, willing themselves to win for one final time.
It’s never goodbye to Kobe.
The one who will always be the greatest, in my eyes. The one who gave everything to the game of basketball – from his mind and body, to his spirit and soul. The one who fell short of tying Jordan’s 6 rings and carrying LA over the Celtics’ ring count. The one who lost 2 Finals to Detroit and Boston. But he was also the one who never left, and stayed for 20 years with 1 team. The one who didn’t take any shortcuts to winning. The one who became the best player in Laker history. The one who personified greatness. The one who is finally at peace with his story and a legacy he left behind.
The one who removed his jersey one final time, when a young 5-year-old in some country who is destined to become greater than him is wearing his.
It’s never goodbye.
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/1YvrMAT)