Kobe Bryant used to be my least favorite basketball player. In fact, he was one of my least favorite people on Earth. I despised him. I’d never met him, but everything Kobe did rubbed me the wrong way. His shirt biting irked me, he was accused of sexual assault, and his shoes were ugly. Plus, living in LA, everywhere I went I was reminded that Kobe was everybody’s hero, and I felt like an outsider trying to understand why number 24 was worshipped. Then on February 24, two words changed everything for me. The day that Kobe tweeted “Amnesty THAT” was the day that I did a 180 on the Mamba.

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Before the Mavs-Lakers game, Mark Cuban suggested that the Lakers amnesty (basically cut) Kobe. His reasoning was that the Lakers needed to add cap room and Kobe, being old and (in Cuban’s mind) past his prime, should be cut to free up over $30 million. Kobe disagreed, and he went on to score 38 points (14 in the 4th) along with 12 rebounds and 7 assists in a victory over Cuban’s team. Post-game, Kobe took to Twitter and welcomed this new member to his fan club.

Kobe first got a Twitter account in January. Before, Kobe was just a crazy basketball player who was obsessed with his own reflection and winning. Since then, Kobe has shown that, believe it or not, he has a personality. In fact, he could sometimes be funny. Instead of just being a mad man, Kobe showed me that he was a mad man with self-awareness and a sense of humor. He took a picture of his ice bath, and then retweeted people who made fun of him. I’m pretty sure he threw around a few LOLs.

The fact that Kobe actually laughed and interacted with people was the beginning of the change for me. Knowing that Kobe was a human and not a robot made me look at him differently. Robo-Kobe’s shirt-biting annoyed me. Human-Kobe’s sucking-the-sweat-out-of-his-shirt-so-that-he-wouldn’t-have-to-stop-and-get-Gatorade made me respect his drive. Robo-Kobe’s ball hogging made me dislike him. Human-Kobe’s desire to win no matter what, even if that means taking 40 shots a game made me ask myself, “What would I do to win?”. Robo-Kobe’s sleeping in the gym during the off-season fooled me into believing that he was an awful father. Human-Kobe’s sleeping in the gym made me discover that there is nothing that Kobe loves more than basketball, and he will do anything-from missing birthdays to graduations-to stay at the top. Kobe lives basketball. It’s part of him. Maybe we could all learn from that: love what you do so much that you are willing to do anything to continue doing it.

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When Kobe tweeted, “Amnesty THAT” it was the final nail in the coffin. Kobe-hating me was dead. The tweet showed Kobe’s swagger. Long gone are the days of Charles Barkley saying, “God wants us to win the world championship.” No one in the NBA trash talks anymore. It has become almost ritualistic for players to hug each other in the middle of games. What happened to the NBA where Ron Artest and the Pacers threw punches at the Pistons? That’s what Kobe’s tweet reminded me of. It was cocky, it was brash, and it was rude, but it was totally Kobe. Kobe isn’t the guy who accepts that Mark Cuban think he is old and washed up. That’s what fuels him. That’s why he takes 40 shots a game. That’s what he showed me with those two words.

As a fan, I want to root for someone who has the Bill Russell/MJ over-competitive gene. I want to root for the player that scouts his teammates to find out their weaknesses and strengths. I want to root for the player that isn’t afraid to pick a fight with a billionaire. I want to root for the player that spends 72 straight hours in a gym. I’ll take Kobe. Dwight Howard? Amnesty THAT.

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