This day was never supposed to come. The day that Kobe Bean Bryant would walk off a basketball court, and never return. The idea is asinine. For two decades, the kid from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, PA has blessed the world with his gift of basketball. The shot, moves and success on display is only equaled by the man that came before him, the one Kobe practically chased his entire career, the only player he's ever been compared to, Michael Jordan.
But forget Michael, this is your moment. For awhile now, we've known your days had literally been numbered. It's been a rumor for years now. There's no hiding you're not the vintage Kobe you used to be, but who expected you to be? Father time is currently undefeated against humanity, and for the first time, you're the same as the rest of us. Father, forgive me for I am about to sin, the blasphemous words you are about to read. You're no longer unstoppable, you're a mortal.
Like the other millions upon millions of people- I wanted to be you. We all wore the imaginary #24 on the court, the ball in our hands, with the game on the line. You were our Wilt, our Bird, our MJ. We've witnessed every poster dunk, turn-around jumper, game winning shot, and every title you've won. To many of us, you were a hero. Forget Shaq or Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant is the one with the cape. Yet for all the love you received during your tenure, the hate grew towards you twice as hard.
Oh, they loved to hate you, Kobe. Any chance they could chime in on how you wanted to be traded, running Shaq/Dwight out of town, what happened in a Colorado hotel room, or any negative stat they could re-tweet on twitter, they never hesitated to use it against you. In 29 other arenas, you sir were the most hated man in said location. Fans hated you because you were arrogant, they hated you because you weren't afraid to show your emotion, they hated you, because you were a winner. But little did they know...
You loved it.
It fueled you. There was nothing more motivating on a killer instinct than somebody telling you, you can't do something, because the hate was only adding fuel to the fire. You practically lived in the Lakers facility. Hundreds of shots each day, the insane amount of hours put into footwork, dribbling, defense and film study, are incomparable to anything we've seen before. What separated you from the rest wasn't only your play on the court, but it was your dedication. Your dedication to be a better player, a better leader, a better everything is what elevated you. When you broke your middle finger, you completely re-worked your shot to fit with your play style. The small children appreciate your highlights, yet the grown ups appreciate the devotion on and off the court. Hate him or love him, your respect is commanded.
You were never satisfied.
We know how bad you wanted that sixth ring. You admitted that the Pistons and Celtics NBA Finals losses hurt you more than it should. When Chris Paul was a Laker for a short, and I mean short, amount of time, it appeared that you were well on your way to achieving it (and we would've gotten to see it if it wasn't for you meddling NBA ownership of the Hornets and your stupid "Basketball reasons"!) We also know how bad you wanted to hit 100 against the Toronto Raptors. Yeah, 81 is cool and all, but you wanted 19 more points in your heart. It's not selfish, it's just Kobe.
When you announced your retirement via open letter, the league had a weird vibe to it. For majority of the past three years, the league had been screaming for you to hang it up. However, when you made it known you were walking away, the attitude shifted to a more lovey-dovey, hate-to-see-you-go feel. If we're being honest, the Lakers are the winners here. Not because their legend if retiring, yet simply because they get to hide another piss-poor season behind it. 2015-2016 will be was pinned as the "Farewell Kobe Tour" for Los Angeles immediately after the initial announcement. How many franchises can afford that luxury?
Admittedly so, I, as many others, took your career for granted before it was too late. Watching you play quickly turned from an activity to a privilege. We've watched you grow, Kobe. From the showtime, #8 afro-Kobe, to the old and wise Master-Splinter #24. The journey wasn't easy, and certainly wasn't forgiving, yet here you are. 48 minutes away from all you, and we, have known for the past twenty years.
So thank you, Kobe Bean Bryant, for everything. After tonight, there will be no more of you. There is no precise way to thank you for all you've done for the game of basketball. Every clutch shot, every poster you've put somebody on, every mamba face, your free throws on a torn Achilles, every loose ball you dove for, every victory, every award, every championship, every minute you were on that court- you gave us, the fans of basketball, your all. Your whole career, we've been spoiled. We've ran out of time to do-so again.
So after 20 years, 5 titles, 48,595 minutes played and 33,583 points, the only thing we as fans, experts, opponents, doubters, haters and admirers can ask of you, is:
Four More Quaters.