I generally try and follow this principle in my life. It makes things simpler. But on a grander scale, it usually will keep you from doing things you later regret. When emotion gets the best of us we do strange things. We say things we wouldn’t normally say. We confront people we wouldn’t normally confront. The momentary lapse of reason that follows some kind of emotional stigma is rarely what you would do when you’re composed and thinking clearly.
That’s the approach I attempted to take tonight. Wait a little while. Give it some time and let it sink in. Immediately rushing to the keyboard, as people do far too often in today’s world of Twitter and Facebook, wasn’t going to allow me to correctly express myself in this particular situation. And for the most part, the reality of what transpired on the Staples Center floor tonight hadn’t fully sunk in. You can read something without fully comprehending it. Even though the meaning is able to leak into your brain, often times it takes longer to permeate your heart.
Now, in the middle of a darker-than-usual night in downtown Los Angeles, the word that I can’t escape is surreal.
That’s how it feels. Not devastating or depressing. Not disheartening or disillusioned.
Often times I find myself torn with this job. I grew up watching the Lakers, rooting for the Lakers. Unlike most of the beat reporters I was never assigned this team – I chose them. But over the course of covering the day to day tendencies and activities of a franchise, you become jaded. Numb. Desensitized. I often feel like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, forced to stare at a screen for hours upon end, relaying the same message over and over.
Still, over the past four years I’ve changed. Whether it’s a desire to remain impartial or simply to distance myself from the maw of fans I encounter on a daily basis, what little emotion left in me has seemingly evaporated. Where once there was a passionate, intense desire to stretch, run and bleed with this team, there is now an empty chasm filled with post-game quotes and news articles. And for the most part I’m okay with that. It’s part of the job, and it was something I knew would happen eventually.
But this is different. Completely different. That emotion is back now. That inane desire to remain unbiased drifts away, resurrecting the knowledge that in the end this is still a fan’s site.
And I’m still a fan.
Kobe Bryant means something different to everyone. I can’t tell you how to feel about a certain player, or what he should or should not mean in your life. Ultimately it’s your decision. And that’s how it should be. All I can do is tell you what he has meant to me, and try to somehow express that through 17 years of highs and lows, ups and downs, praise and criticisms, there hasn’t been a more reliable or consistent force in the sporting world. And the sudden realization at how quickly it can all change is far too sobering.
If this is beginning to sound like a eulogy I apologize. That’s really not my goal here. Kobe Bryant isn’t dead. Hell, he isn’t even retired. He’s hurt. He’s hurt badly, but still only hurt. And there isn’t a person out there that thinks we’ve seen the last of him on the court. In the end he’ll miss the end of a season that is more comparable to a runaway train than a basketball team. His presence on the court wasn’t going to carry the Lakers to the championship this year. It might not have even gotten them into the playoffs. The more you think about it, it almost seems like Kobe got the easy way out.
But it always felt like as long as he was out there, there was a chance.
There was hope.
Maybe nothing more than a fool’s hope, but nevertheless still hope.
And that hope was contagious. Especially to his teammates. Nobody would ever try and deny that Kobe can be brutal to deal with at times, especially with how much he expects from the guys on his team. But they know that with that comes the assurance that he’s going to be out there trying as hard as he can to help his team win. Well, as long as that doesn’t mean closing out on open shooters. He gave that up years ago.
So maybe the reflection here is not that we’re losing Kobe Bryant, but we’re losing that variable that’s impossible to define or replace. You’re losing the one wild card in an otherwise face-up deck where everybody can see your hand. You’re losing that final ounce of hope.
Whether they reach the postseason or not, the season will end soon. And when it does the attention will remain focused on Bryant. How’s he recovering? When will he return? Will he still be the same guy when he does? These are questions that we don’t have answers to yet. And some will take much longer to answer than others. But we’ll keep asking. We’ll keep waiting. And we’ll keep expecting nothing but the best.
Because that’s what Kobe’s taught us. That’s the precedent he has set during his time in Los Angeles. The cold-blooded persona and the games with the media are fun, but ultimately that’s not what made Laker fans fall in love with him in the first place. Because even at his core, beneath the layers that have intertwined over the course of 17 years living the life of a superstar, Kobe’s still that young kid out there trying to prove the other kids wrong. And in the end that’s what I’m able to take solace in. That’s what I can connect with. Because no matter how much the daily grind of life beats you down or glosses you over, the occasional realization that your passion isn’t gone, only dormant, is what’s most encouraging.
We’ll see you soon, Kobe. You’ve taught us to count on that.
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