Monday, December 16, 2013

Il Ritorno di Kobe Bean Bryant

April 12th, 2013. 

Do you remember where you were the night Kobe Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon? I sure do. I sat on my old apartment's living room couch, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Honestly, I was stunned. I couldn't move. My stomach dropped ten stories, and I had no idea what to do.

I've been a Lakers fan for as long as I could remember, and Kobe has been the one constant over that time. My sports fandom starts and ends with the Purple and Gold. Growing up, I didn't really feel like I had much in common with my parents. My childhood was considerably different from my parents', and they found it hard to relate to me. Luckily enough, they recognized my fascination with sports, specifically basketball, at a young age, and they tried their best to support my interests. They encouraged me to play recreational basketball, and they never missed a single game. Whenever I wanted to watch a Laker game on TV, they would change the channel and watch with me, even though they weren't necessarily as interested in it as I was. So many Lakers moments I can recall experiencing with my Dad, like the Shaq & Kobe three-peat and subsequent championship parades from 2000-02, Robert Horry's 3-pointer off the Vlade Divac deflection in 2002, Derek Fisher's game-winner with 0.4 seconds left in 2004, Kobe's 81-pointsplosion against the Raptors in 2006, the Kobe & Pau championships in 2009-10. We shared a lot of awesome memories together in the comforts of our living room.
Lakers gang or die, homie. That basketball jersey over polo shirt look, though!
So when I watched Kobe crumble to the ground, I looked around, hoping to see my Pops there to tell me that everything was going to be okay. He was nowhere to be found in my college apartment. It was a sobering experience to not have anyone there to understand what I was feeling. I don't remember how many days I felt upset about the whole ordeal, but it was a while before I could accept what happened. Call me crazy, but Kobe was somewhat of a superhuman figure to me. While some kids looked up to Superman or Batman or the Green Hornet, I idolized #8/24. I don't think I was quite prepared to witness his mortality become exposed, especially without my Lakers viewing partner with me. I had watched him over the years play through nearly every broken bone, strain, illness, what have you, and in my mind he was as invincible as any human could be. Now, people were questioning whether he would come back and play again, and, if he did, whether he would ever be the same again. An Achilles tear is a devastatingly serious injury, one that is not overcome very easily.

But, as KB24 has done time and time again, he worked relentlessly. His rehab and recovery lasted months less than anticipated, and he planned to return to the court as soon as he could. Once word got out that he would be returning in early December, I had to be there to see the man, the myth, the legend in person once more.

(4). Lakers v. Suns - Kobe Bryant's Return, Game II

Unfortunately, the night of Kobe's first game back coincided with the due date of a major paper (who knew university would be so much work?), so I had to settle for his second game versus the Suns.

I arrived to Staples Center a few hours early, with friends and fellow Lakers/Kobe superfanatic Stevo Glover, so that I could mentally prepare myself to see Kobe on the hardwood again. Nike was kind enough to provide every guest with a black t-shirt signifying the return of the Black Mamba. Of course, Los Angeles is Los Angeles, and only about 20% of the arena equipped the shirts. No matter. We were there, and we were ready.

The Lakers Sunday whites are gorgeous, no?
The atmosphere in the Staples Center was electric. Everyone came for one reason. The pregame video was mesmerizing, and the intros were chilling. 

"Starting at shooting guard for your Los Angeles Lakers, from Lower Merion High School, #24, Kobe Bryant!!!"

The building erupted, and shivers were sent down my spine. I clapped, I yelled, I hooted and hollered. He really was back. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, he had risen once more, and I was glad. 

The previous game had been somewhat of a train wreck for Kobe. He had nearly as many turnovers (8) as points (9), and the team had lost convincingly to the Toronto Raptors. There was a slight fear that this may be the Kobe that we would have to endure for the next few years: a step slower, a liability on defense, an inefficient shot-chucker. Would this be the unmerciful ending to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career?

Then, with 6:24 to go in the first quarter, this happened:
Boom shakalaka.

Suddenly, with one fell swoop, Kobe Bean rocked Downtown LA once again. He dropped the hammer like he has done so many times before, although this was not the sort of resounding dunk that 18-year old Slam Dunk Champion Kobe would have delivered. Nonetheless, he delivered a strong statement. Sure, he may be 35 years of age now. Sure, he may not have the type of All-Star supporting cast that he had enjoyed previously. Sure, he may not have all of the athleticism and explosiveness that once exemplified his game. But he was back with a vengeance, and he will continue to do everything in his power to chase that elusive 6th championship ring (and snatch the all-time scoring title from Kareem, as well).

It was a wonderful evening of basketball, and though the Lakers couldn't pull out the victory, it was beyond exciting to see one of the world's greatest athletes back on the court once again. He didn't have to rehab as hard as he did and come back, but he did. Love him or hate him, you have to respect the man.

If I ever get the chance to have a personal conversation with Kobe, the only words I would need to say to him are "thank you." For giving me experiences to share with my parents, for sparking my love of basketball and sport, for making me feel proud of my team and my town. I've enjoyed the ride thus far, and I'll be riding with him all the way into the purple and gold sunset.

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