KOBE24As part of #MambaWeek, this Thursday, SiriusXM NBA Radio honors Kobe Bryant with a two-hour special celebrating his incredible 20 seasons in the NBA. They’ll look back at Kobe’s legendary career with highlights and interviews with Kobe himself, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, and many more. Hear the two-hour special hosted by Justin Termine Thursday night at 8pm Eastern, only on NBA Radio, Sirius 207, XM 86, and on your phone with the SiriusXM App.

I used to hate Kobe Bryant.

Seriously, hated everything about him. And looking back on that now, I can’t even tell you why. Maybe it was because I was a huge Michael Jordan fan as a child and hated the “next MJ” comparison. Maybe it was because I agreed with Shaquille O’Neal’s assessment of Bryant being a “ball hog.” Maybe it was because he seemingly couldn’t miss at the end of games, constantly handing whatever random team I was rooting for (because I rooted for anyone besides the Lakers) a heartbreaking loss. Maybe it was because he was so good at basketball, meanwhile I failed in three attempts to make my high school basketball team.

But over time something changed. Sure, I got older, and with age came understanding and appreciation. I grew to understand why he was so good at basketball: because he worked hard to perfect his game. I grew to appreciate his clutch performances and “ball-hogging,” because he did it out of a refusal to lose. I grew to appreciate his tenacity and ferocity on the court. I grew to find his snarl and clenched jaw in the game’s biggest moments to be endearing. How did that happen?

It was because his attitude became such a rarity in today’s NBA. As time passed and the new generation, led by the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, took over the league, things became too chummy for my liking. Players started hanging out with each other in the offseason, taking selfies and vacationing together and forming “super teams.” Kobe Bryant wasn’t with all that nonsense. At times it seemed like he wasn’t even friends with his teammates. They were more like co-workers who had a job to do, soldiers who had a mission to accomplish. All personal relationships had to take a backseat.

Bryant represented the last of the “old guard,” the era that saw players genuinely dislike each other not because of personal differences, but for the sake of competition. I’ll never forget the end of the 2012 All-Star Game when Bryant demanded to defend James and was legitimately pissed at him for passing the ball and foregoing the opportunity to attempt a game-winning shot. “Shoot the f—ing ball!” Bryant yelled at him, and James couldn’t get the ball out of his hands fast enough. In that one instance, the difference between Bryant and the rest of the league was crystal clear.

“The most important thing is you must put everybody on notice that you’re here and you are for real. I’m not a player that is just going to come and go. I’m not a player that is going to make an All-Star team one time, two times. I’m here to be an all-time great. Once I made that commitment and said, ‘I want to be one of the greatest ever,’ then the game became everything for me.” -Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bean Bryant was cut from a different cloth, a cloth that wasn’t defined by how many commercials you were in but rather by being the absolute best in the world at what you do. Bryant put in the work to be the best: he’d shoot until he couldn’t lift his arms above his head, he’d run until he couldn’t stand. When he could no longer attack the rim and fly through the air the way he used to, he worked at developing and perfecting a more calculated arsenal of post moves and spot-up jumpers. The ability to adapt and not let the evolution of the game pass him by was driven by his pride, which is what fueled his desire to be the best in the world at what he does. Bryant would play basketball until he couldn’t play basketball anymore. Bryant can’t play basketball anymore, at least that’s what his body is telling him.

It’s not always hard to watch one of the greats ride off into the sunset. Jordan retired on top, winning his sixth NBA Championship, and his short return in 2001-02 was nothing short of an incredibly fun experience for a die-hard fan like me. Peyton Manning retired this year right after winning the Super Bowl. Bryant won’t be as fortunate. It’s been difficult not only to watch his body break down in injury-plagued seasons, but also to watch the Lakers toil away in the depths of the NBA with no real shot at contending for a title. It would’ve been nice to see Bryant get his sixth ring and tie Jordan, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

There’s no reason to be sad about Bryant walking away. He gave the game of basketball everything he had. He gave us countless memories and lessons. The influence of the Black Mamba goes beyond the game of basketball. Bryant’s work ethic and dedication to his craft should be emulated in all aspects of life. If we all held ourselves to the standard of being the absolute best in the world at what we do, there’d be no limit to what we could accomplish.

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