I don’t remember exactly how Kobe won my admiration, and i won’t try to convince you that he deserved it. For better or for worse, I was a Kobe fan, and for a long time I was the only one I knew. As if I had anything to do with it, I felt accomplished by his ascent to the top of the basketball world, and embarrassed when he fell off it. He ruptured his achilles in 2013, and watching him play stopped being fun. It was no surprise when he announced his retirement this year, but his final game seemed both overdue and all too soon.
I was a 13 year old kid when my dad first pointed out the teenager with the fro who’d be an All-Star before starting on his own team. 20 years later, I am at the tail end of a trip that’s given me plenty of cause to be sentimental, and Kobe’s retirement feels apropos. It may be pathetic, but saddling up to a bar one last time to watch him play brought back a flood of nostalgia and adolescent memories: watching the infamous lob to Shaq between matches of the state high school tennis tournament; receiving tickets to a game in LA as a gift from my beaming sister; dragging Jane to a hooters in Puerto Vallarta, or making her drive me to a Blazer game during a snowstorm because the Lakers were in Portland; fighting over the TV in the Occidental dorms; reading about an 81 point game from Italy.
Clapping and shouting to nobody at a nearly empty bar, in a dusty beach town in Costa Rica, I could only shake my head in disbelief as Kobe dropped 60 in his finale. I felt 17 again, holding my breath every time he touched the ball. It was a familiar but forgotten thrill - one I was reminded I’ll miss.