I am a Boston Celtics fan. The Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers rivalry will always run hot through my veins. I have seen the Celtics win an NBA Championship against the Lakers in 2008, while also having my heart broken by Kobe and his Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.
If there is one player I have grown to hate more than anyone it would have to be Kobe Bryant. His smug, Jordan-esque swagger, and ball dominant ways never appealed to me. It is however, through these actions that some of the greatest games and highlights in NBA history have been created. It is through these monstrous poster dunks, awe-inspiring turnaround fadeaways, and smooth deadeye threes that I have grown to respect and even love watching Kobe throughout the years. Nobody since Michael Jordan has combined the physical tools with the killer instincts and the hunger for greatness the way Kobe has. ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith said in 2004 when Kobe was the youngest player ever to have won three championships, “Who is starving more for an NBA world championship? More than Kobe Bryant? There is no one.”
In 1996 Kobe Bryant would begin a legendary career. It began with a PIAA state championship win against the Cathedral Prep Ramblers in his senior year of high school at Lower Merion. Despite receiving college offers from big name universities such as Duke, North Carolina, and Michigan Bryant eventually decided to make the prep-to-pro leap.
Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the legendary 1996 NBA Draft. That draft class also featured fellow MVPs Allen Iverson and Steve Nash, future two-time champion and the all-time leader in three point field goals Ray Allen, and future teammate Derek Fisher, with whom Kobe would win five NBA championships. Among a class of several future Hall of Famers, Bryant had a career that stands out above them all.
Kobe became the first guard to be drafted out of high school and joined Kevin Garnett, who had been drafted in 1995, as only the second player in 20 years to go prep-to-pro. Kobe Bryant was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac on draft day, and the rest is history.
On Nov. 29, 2015, Kobe Bryant announced that he would retire at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season. Kobe wrote a heartfelt poem titled “Dear Basketball” in which he described the love that he has had and will always have for the game. Twenty seasons later, 47,000-plus minutes later, and more than 32,000 points later, it is time to close the Kobe Bryant chapter.
As a Boston Celtics fan I have rooted against you. I have hated you. However after every game this season I will thank you. Thank you for the dunks. Thank you for the jumpers. Thank you for the buzzer beaters and heartbreakers. Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for being the villain that everyone has loved to hate. In a draft class of MVPs and champions and in a pantheon of NBA greats, you will be remembered as one of the greatest.