Clear the paint for Chuck and Kobe, one last time.
Kobe Bean Bryant….
The first time I saw you going up against Black Jesus, when you were 18 years old, I knew you were a killer. That’s when I realized you were going to be a legend in this game. You were going hard at Mike that night. No fear whatsoever. I mean, I knew from passing you in traffic over the years that you were a dog. But when I saw you going at Black Jesus like that?
That’s when I knew you were a kindred spirit.
We might have grown up in different circumstances, but when I saw you on the court, and how hard you were going, I knew we were raised with the same mentality. I wasn’t tall — but in my mind, I was going to be a giant out there every single night. You were 6′ 6″, and could’ve scored in your sleep. But that wasn’t enough. You were trying to be the best that ever did it.
Everybody says they want to be that. But not everybody is willing to sacrifice what it really takes to do it.
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Remember when I came out to L.A. for the first time our rookie year? You picked me up at the hotel and we went out for some food, and you asked me what I was getting up to later.
I said I was going to the club. I mean, we in L.A.! I’m going to the club, Kobe. Come on, man.
And what did you say?
“I’m going back to the gym.”
You’re probably the only dude in the history of the game where the mystique wasn’t exaggerated. The Mamba was no myth, man. It didn’t even do you justice. One, two, three in the morning, we knew where you were.
Me and you, every single time we stepped on that floor, we were going to war. But it wasn’t an animosity thing. There was never any beef. It was like heavyweight fighters beating the hell out of one another. And then at the bell, it’s nothing but love and respect. Greatness needs company, and we needed each other. Mike needed Prince like Prince needed Mike. Tyson needed Holyfield like Holyfield needed Tyson.
Everybody needs that person to say, Oh, you’re the sh*t, huh? Well I’m the sh*t, too.
Greatness needs company, and we needed each other. Mike needed Prince like Prince needed Mike.And boy, you were the sh*t. You were the toughest man that I’ve ever seen in this game. The most cold-blooded serial killer I’ve ever seen. The fiercest competitor I’ve ever seen. I remember hearing the story that you were on the road, and you were watching the highlights of me dropping 35 on the Knicks at the Garden our rookie year, and you got so mad that you smashed up the hotel room and you started researching me like you were in the CIA. “GET ME THE FILE ON A.I.” — I bet it was like that. Studying how great white sharks hunt down seals in the Pacific Ocean and whatnot.
What I love about that story is, it’s the truth. That was just our relationship. Two dudes pushing each other to greatness. The next time you came through Philly, you were ALL up in my sh*t. There was no half-stepping you. Every first step, I had to go 100. You’re 6′ 6″, and it was like you wanted to guard me. You wanted the challenge. You wanted to show me that you were the baddest motherf***er to ever play the game.
And I didn’t want ANY part of Kobe Bryant on the other end!!!!!
Man, hell no!!!!!!
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I’m not stopping you. Nobody is stopping you. You were KOBE, and you were gonna do whatever you wanted to do out there — because you were a sniper, an assassin, a cold-blooded killer … and now I’m talking about you in the past tense, and I still get emotional about it.
It still doesn’t seem real.
You were my guy.
The 2001 Finals, we were going at each other like fighters. Not out of some beef or hatred — that’s what some people could never understand. Not out of hate. Out of admiration. Out of love.
I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve seen of me and you, at the free throw line, talking our sh*t and just smiling.
Man, who the hell loses an NBA scoring title averaging 33 a game?
How the hell are you going to average 35 like that, man?
Why’d you have to do that??
You had to do it because you’re you. Because you’re Kobe Bean Bryant. Because you’re a straight-up giant. You were probably watching me do my thing on SportsCenter every night like, 41, huh? Lemme get 43 — see how you like that, Chuck.
I was always confident. I knew what I could do. I was a scorer. I was a winner. I did it my way. I won some games. But you were a champion. You got rings. You got RINGS on rings. You were loved all over the goddamn world, and you were loved in my own house. My oldest daughter loved Kobe Bryant. She always wanted Dad to win, don’t get me wrong — but she wanted Kobe to go off, too.
My kids used to be hitting me talking about how they want the Kobe Adidases when they came out!!!! They were rocking number 8 and number 24, because you were one of their heroes. And if I’m being honest about it? You were a hero to me, too. Even though you were younger than me, I looked up to you because of how much you sacrificed, how much you gave to this game.
I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve seen of me and you, at the free throw line, talking our sh*t and just smiling.Any time anybody asks me, “Who’s the greatest of all-time?”
I’m not going to bullsh*t you. M.J. is always Number 1. I know you’d say the same. Black Jesus, that’s the G.O.A.T.
But Number 2?
Number 2, I’m always going to say it’s Kobe Bryant.
Nobody was tougher than you. Nobody got more out of me. We’re linked forever in this game — in this life.
I just wish we’d had more time.
It’s funny, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but one of my favorite memories is coming to see you in L.A. when they retired the 8 and the 24. Who the hell is so cold for so long that they get TWO different numbers up in the rafters?? I couldn’t miss that moment for the world. But you know what’s so crazy about it? Everybody in the Staples Center was treating me like we won them rings in 2001. Security was giving me all types of problems when I was trying to get down on the floor, man!!! Y’all won, Los Angeles!!!
I’m trying to get out on the court to congratulate you, like, That’s my guy. And security is looking at me like I’m crazy.
Hahahaha, y’all won!!!! Y’all got all the rings!!!
Man, when I finally got onto the floor and I gave you a hug, and you were holding your baby girl in your arms … that was a moment that I’ll never forget. I was just happy to be there. I was happy to be a part of the legacy that is Kobe Bean Bryant.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Where’d the time go, man? That first trip out to L.A. feels like it was just yesterday. We were just kids, with everything in front of us.
“What you getting up to later?”
“I’m going to the club.”
“I’m going back to the gym.”
I’ll never forget that.
You’re not here on this earth anymore, but you’re not gone, either. You just say the name Kobe Bryant, and the memories come back in a split second.
I can see you pointing your finger up in the air, walking off the court after you dropped 81 on Toronto.
I can see you jumping up in the air just like MJ after you won the title.
I can see you standing there next to me at the free throw line, smiling, not even saying anything — just looking at me like, It’s on, Chuck.
Those memories aren’t going anywhere.
And yeah, we’re gonna cry.
We’re still gonna cry sometimes when we remember that you’re really gone.
But we gonna smile like a motherf***er when we think of the memories.
I don’t really know how I’m supposed to close out a letter like this. I don’t really know how to say goodbye to an NBA legend, a father, a husband, a friend. I don’t really have the words.
All I know is … I love you, brother.
The Legend of Kobe Bryant, a collection of our favorite stories by and about the Black Mamba — all from the archives of The Players’ Tribune.