image The last Strikes of the Black Mamba.

There are two thing I consider my self an expert on in life. First is professional sports, I played sports through much of my childhood and adolescent years, since then I’ve immersed my self in sports as a spectator, the word Fanatic comes to mind.

I Love professional sports, I love the spectacle and I love the over the top, larger than life celebrity athletes of the world. For the sake of boring everyone to death I will not get into the debate of whether professional athletes can be viewed as normal people and should the scrutiny they receive be justified. That’s another piece for another time, plus the fact that I am not going to focus on the celebrity dynamic.

What I love, truly is the game. The game of football, the game of basketball and anything that drives the competitive spirit. This year will mark the end of truly the greatest “old school” basketball player of my lifetime. A man who encompassed everything that is great about sports not just from a fundamental perspective but also one of the last men to use a kids game to learn is whole life philosophy and ability to choose the man he has become through the game of basketball.

The man I speak of is the great Kobe Bryant.

Now Kobe is no stranger to controversy and in some cases extreme controversy. I’m not going to make excuses for Kobes past behavior and transgression, for the point of this piece, it doesn’t really matter.
Kobe Bryant, love or hate him is one of the last professional (without debate) who’s personal drive and determination made him a shoe in for the hall-of-fame on the first-ballot he is eligible for, and easily one of the top ten players of all time.
He learned from the greats before him that basketball wasn’t just a game but an audition for how to succeed in life. He took the time, sacrifice countless hours and sacrificed his family time to achieve the goal of being the greatest and changing the game and the way the public sees the game of basketball. Just like those before him, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor and of course Micheal Jordan. These are a unique group of men who saw basketball as a game of life, not just something to be played on the court, and that’s why they changed the game forever. 
Kobe’s retirement is bitter sweet it’s almost like a wonderful marriage that eventually has become old and tired and it’s time to move on.
So where do we put Kobe in the list of the greatest? For me it’s easy, but I’ll start by saying that wasn’t always the case. In 2004, he was accused of assault on a Denver woman who worked at a ski resort; that made me really angry. Now I hear these types of stories all the time and don’t think twice about them. This kind of news is par for the course for celebrities with money and fame it seems in society today.
So Kobe, a young 24 year old man with millions of dollars in the bank, had come to his first real fork in the road. No one was sure the outcome or what may happen to this bright future of the league.
As we known things were settled before there was a huge smear campaign against both Kobe and the young victim in the case.
It’s now 2005 and the Lakers have blown the team up, Shaq is gone and so are all the washed up old stars from the 90’s( who never beat Jordan, Kobe’s idol.) 
Phill Jackson leaves and now Kobe is stuck with no talent and a rotating coaching staff. During the 05-07 seasons the Lakers were able to make the playoffs with Kobe carrying the team but never had enough to get over the proverbial hump. However, Kobe did drop 81 points in Toronto which is the second most of all time, so clearly he still had the drive and passion.
Fast forward to 2008, as an older and wiser Bryant sat down and had a long talk with his former coach Phil Jackson. It was at this point that Phil really found himself believing in this new mature Bryant and saw in him the same passion and determination that the greats before him possessed.
Phil wanted one more run to prove that Kobe was in fact one of the greatest and Kobe wanted to prove that he could be the leader that Phil always wanted him to be. 
The rest is history, the Lakers would then go on to three consecutive NBA finals and winning two back-to-back.
How does this happen? How does someone go from public enemy number one to stringing together 3 of the most magical seasons in franchise history? It’s simple he grew up, but not the way we think of “growing up” in normal circumstances, he grew up with the game and saw the game as an extension and learning tool for life.
I for one am going to miss the Black Mamba, he truly is the last of the old school breed. The competitive fire, the overwhelming since of pride for what he had and last but not least he saw the game of basketball as an extension of life and what it takes to succeed.
I hope we get to see and hear from Kobe for years to come, his insight and knowledge of the game will undoubtedly make him successful in a future endeavors.
Good luck Black Mamba we will truly miss you, and the game will never be the same!
Author: Chris Reiser
Editor: Adam Wilkinson
Image: flickr
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