/ by Sean Beauford

in 1996 i was a Kobe Bryant fan. Michael Jordan was everything in the 90s and he was my first favorite basketball player but Kobe was probably the first player whose journey i saw from the start. i witnessed him enter the NBA. i witnessed him become Mamba.

i saw him on Sister Sister. i saw him on Moesha.

he was a kid like me. he had 10 years on me so he was an older kid but he wasn't an adult. he was a kid. he was the same age as the Mansfield Sr. High varsity team i'd watch play at Pete Henry Gym. he was a kid. and he was playing in the same league as Mike the rest of the guys from Space Jam. that's insane. without knowing much about basketball at the time, i liked him on gp.

fast forward to 2003/2004

improved player + won rings + despicable case caught + snitched on Shaq + ran Shaq out + a high school phenom 40 minutes up the way from where i lived in Ohio is drafted to the home team and is crowned King James.

from that time to about last year, i didn't rock with Kobe at all. he was cold and i respected his game but i wasn't checking for him. then two things came out that forever changed how i viewed him: The Interview (with Ahmad Rashad) and the documentary MUSE (by Gotham Chopra). it wasn't until i saw these two works that i understood Kobe the player, and had more insight on Kobe the man. you should watch them both if you haven't.

both feature Bean telling his own story, addressing what made him him, what made the black mamba, his highs and his lows. i actually found myself relating to him. all i knew prior was the selfish bball sociopath with questionable character. i didn't know how he grew up an awkward outcast and how much isolation and not fitting in influenced his path. i can relate. even after making it and being on a team, he was still Mr. Solo Dolo. i can relate. i never knew how in his darkest times, he channeled his emotions to what he loved, using them as fuel. i can relate. he wanted to do things his way, regardless of what everyone around him was doing. i can relate. he's not concerned with hanging out and making friends. i feel him. a lot of the things that shaped him, shaped me in some ways. i'm not saying we're the same. we're not. not even a little bit. but because i now understand and relate to him, i'm able to learn from his greatness as well as his faults.

his words even helped get me through my first marathon, which i ran injured last year.

"when the game itself is more significant than the injury, you don't feel the injury. the injury won't get in the way because it's not important to you"

i wish i would've saw him play in person. my partner and i actually got tickets to his final game in Cleveland but then i had lung surgery two days before it and had to watch from a hospital bed.

with today being the last game of his incredible 20 year career, i want to take the time to say that i appreciate all that he's given to the game and the example he set with his work ethic. his dedication, focus, and desire to win is only inspiring.

Kob' elevated his entire profession and became one of the greatest to ever do it, out of thousands before him (never mind the millions that failed to go pro). think about whatever it is you do and think about how crazy it is to be recognized by millions around the world as like the top 3 to ever do it in history. how can you not respect that?

toast to the Mamba.