Our regular readers know I’m a huge NBA fan, and that I count Kobe Bryant among my heroes. He shares that treasured status with Elvis, who I have admired since I was a shy but determined to make something of myself 12 year old girl. Kobe has been on my short list—and it’s truly short, as he and Elvis are it—since January 2006, when he had that 81 point game against Toronto. I watched, mesmerized at how he was able to single-handedly bring his team back from the brink and turn what was on track to be a humiliating home loss into a highlight reel that would be watched over and over again for years to come.
This past Wednesday, I watched in a similar state of awe as Bryant worked his magic again, this time against the under-achieving New Orleans Hornets, a team which has won only a handful of home games all season. At one point, the Lakers found themselves down by 25 points in a game they absolutely had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They still trailed by 18 (75-93) to begin the fourth quarter, one that had Hornets fans on their feet, cheering what was certain to be a major upset, a tiny flicker of feel good in their season of lost desires. Twelve minutes later, the Lakers walked off the court with a 108-102 win. During those twelve amazing minutes, Kobe scored 18 points on seven-for-eight shooting and added four assists. He finished the game with 42 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. Granted, he had some help from Dwight Howard, who posted his best game as a Laker with 20 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocked shots, the last of which was critical to preserve the win. But I know, as does every Laker fan, that it was Kobe and his refuse to lose attitude that won the seemingly unwinnable game.
It’s no secret that it’s been a tough season for the Lakers. What was expected to be a championship contender has struggled to stay within striking distance of the playoffs all year. The reasons are many: major injuries to key players, a coaching change (of which I still say thank you, Dr. Buss), too many new players, a difficult schedule, and the recent passing of legendary team owner Jerry Buss, may he rest in peace.
But Kobe isn’t one to make excuses, so neither will I. The Lakers should have a much better record than 31-31. Nonetheless, they are still alive and kicking because Kobe will not accept anything less than qualifying for the playoffs, even if it kills him. And frankly, most days I’m surprised it hasn’t. Here is a 34-year-old guy who still goes to the gym at 4:30 in the morning to work on his game, which often includes taking some 800 practice shots. He takes ice baths after games to keep the swelling down. Not ice packs on the joints like I use for my tendonitis and arthritis, but ice baths. He maintains a healthy diet of lean meats, fruits and veggies. Namely, he does everything humanly possible to keep his body in top shape. A body that has logged an enormous number of miles over his 17 year career. As a result, as incredible as it is to say, he is playing better this year than he ever has.
There is talk of retirement when his contract ends after next season. Talk that I can certainly understand from Kobe’s standpoint. I can’t imagine how hard it is to do what he does every single day. As a basketball fan, however, I want the Mamba—or, as he has recently been dubbed, Vino, to keep doing all those things and more so he can play forever. Frankly, I just can’t imagine watching Laker games without that fine wine, number 24, dripping his magic on the court. Regardless of who has donned the Purple and Gold in the past and who will proudly do so in the future, I am certain of one thing: there will never be another player who displays the type of lead-by-example work ethic of Kobe Bean Bryant.
Greatest Laker ever? Yes, and it’s not even close. Best NBA player ever? At this moment, it’s probably a dead heat between Jordan and Kobe, but when all is said and done, I truly believe Vino will prevail.
This morning I was thinking that if I possessed even a fraction of Kobe’s determination, I would likely have penned several best sellers by now. I suppose there’s still time, so I best sign off this blog and get to writing them.