by Kyle Arango
Dear Kobe, it only feels like yesterday I turned on the television to first watch you. Basketball was a foreign concept to me, but you got me interested. I watched that 2008 NBA finals against the Celtics and saw how you reacted after that loss. You get up and keep fighting, one of the first lessons you taught me.
Next year I told myself I had to see you in person. This man who just seems to be different then every other athlete out there. A man who has the desire to not be as good as the best, but to be better than that. You won the championship that year, and then the year after. I will never forget that moment of you grabbing that ball at the end, stretching your arms out wide, and soaking in the celebration. The mentality of a true winner, a mamba mentality.
Throughout the years I went back to see your old games before I started watching the sport. Your days of championships with Shaq winning three in a row. Every January going back and watching the highlights of your 81 point game, still the most impressive scoring effort of all time, even better than Wilt. With every single game of yours one thing was consistent, you gave all your effort every single minute of every single game. Something I take with me in life everyday is that mentality.
I remember when you tore your achilles out on the court after a foul and instead of being carried off you stood up. You stood up, limped over, hit two free throws, and showed us what the heart of a champion was made of. The day you announced your retirement was one of the most bittersweet days of my life. All of it culminating with your final game where you went out the way only you could have, scoring 60 points.
Yes Kobe, you were the reason I started watching sports, and still love watching to this day. I modeled my basketball skills after you, I’m under six feet tall, but because of you I believed there was a chance I could do it. Even when it became clear that basketball was not for me as a career, I took your teachings with me in life. Your career after basketball has been just has impactful by winning an Oscar and proving those who doubt you wrong. How being a loving father was so important to you and to set an example for your daughters. The desire to be the best no matter what the cost and to not let anything stand in my way in all walks of life. To hold yourself with dignity and honor, and hold yourself to the highest standard.
So as I hover over the keyboard with tears in my eyes and a heavy feeling in my heart, I choose to just be thankful. I could laud over your accomplishments and the number you put up, but I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m just going to say thank you Kobe. Thank you for being a role model for me to follow. Thank you for showing me what it means to be great. Thank you for giving me a drive most can never think about and has got me to where I am today. Even though you never knew who I was, losing you was like losing a member of the family. I feel pain in my heart but instead of letting it crush me, I’m going to use it to push me. I’m going to use the pain to drive me and make you proud by being the best person I can be. Laker Nation, the world, and me are going to miss the hell out of you, but your presence will never be gone and your legacy will live on forever. I know most may not agree but not only are you my favorite athlete ever but you were the best I ever saw with my own eyes. The best basketball player ever. As you said after your last game, Mamba out.