It hasn’t really hit me yet. You’re actually retiring. Tonight.
I remember the first time I watched you play; I was just a kid who knew nothing about basketball. But, I knew what I saw.
Intensity. Domination. Aggressiveness. Dedication.
Someone who was fearless, relentless.
From that moment, you not only commanded my attention, but, most importantly, you had my respect.
And over the course of my life as an NBA fan, you’ve made it impossible for me to not fall in love with you, both as a player and a human being.
You started out as a high school phenom and over the course of your career, you went from being a 20-points per-game scorer to a 30-points per-game scorer, and to even being a 35-points per-game scorer at one point.
You had some ridiculously high scoring games, like that time you scored 81 points in a single game with such an incredible ease that it was almost like something out of a video game.
Over the course of your career, you’ve become synonymous with the city of Los Angeles. To the residents of the city, you are simply more than a player; you’ve become a way of life.
You have even been compared to a lot of contemporary greats — Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, and even the G.O.A.T. himself, Michael Jordan.
But you never batted an eyelash at those comparisons.
However, to me, you have always simply been Kobe Bryant. A five-time champion, MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, two-time scoring champion, Olympian.
And most importantly: legend.
I’ve had a lot of fun watching you enjoy your last season, despite all the trials and tribulations that have come with injuries and age. You played the villain for so long, and as much as I love villain Kobe, I love seeing a different side of you: a much more jovial, happy and caring Kobe.
But as I reflect on your illustrious career that officially comes to an end tonight, I have to say thank you:
Thank you for being a polarizing superstar, an indisputable cultural icon.
Thank you for the countless debates that your play has sparked among me and my fellow basketball fans. (By the way, I always take your side)
Thank you for being relatable (even though I’m not a professional athlete) in terms of work ethic and willingness to do anything and everything to improve your game.
Thank you for the record-breaking performances, the championships, and a lifetime worth of memories. I’ll never forget where I was when you won your first championship and when you won your last.
But most importantly, thank you for not only introducing me to this beautiful game of basketball, but for teaching me to love it the way I do. It’s had more of an impact than I could have ever imagined, and I owe it all to you.
So here’s to you Kobe. I’m really going to miss you.