A letter to the Mamba from a lifelong fan

Kobe Bryant eyes the basket during the 1997 NBA Slam Dunk contest in Cleveland. Bryant was the youngest player to win the contest. (Courtesy of CNN)Kobe Bryant eyes the basket during the 1997 NBA Slam Dunk contest in Cleveland. Bryant was the youngest player to win the contest. (Courtesy of CNN)

Garrett SandersCorrespondent

As I sit here thinking of what I would say to you, there is nothing that comes to mind; nothing, but also everything. The memories and life lessons that you have given me flood in like water from a broken dam and my fingers are just a small funnel, unable to redirect them. You don’t know me, yet it feels like I have lost a brother, father or friend. All I know is that it isn’t right.

You spent 20 years as a Laker. It pains me, as someone who has followed you very closely, to know you didn’t get to spend that much time as a father. As I grew up, so did your girls. I watched hundreds of your games over the years and while the outcome of the games may have been in question, what took place right after never was.

Your girls were always there in the tunnel waiting for you. Even when the nasty divorce process was going on, they were still there waiting. Lakers nation got to watch Natalia and Gianna grow up, and in a sense that made us all feel like a part of your family. It was a family that you gladly shared with your fans and invited us into. As a kid with a troubled relationship with my father, this was what I admired most about you.

It’s crazy to think about how you were only 17 when you were drafted. That seemed so old to me at the time, but looking back now, I don’t know how you handled it. I was 2-years-old when you went pro. Shaq had just come to town, Nick Van Exel was the next big thing for the Lakers and I had no idea who any of these people were because I had just started watching basketball.

I’m not even sure what drew me to the Lakers, but I latched on and never let go. Lakers games became a retreat from my miserable reality. I didn’t have any meaningful relationships to speak of when I was a kid, so I formed them with you guys, you just didn’t know it.

You and Shaq became my biggest role models. Shaq showed me how to relax and have fun while you showed me what real work ethic was. You showed me what real drive and determination looked like and what it meant to never grow complacent. That dedication is what made you rise above guys like Nick Van Exel and to the level of guys like Michael Jordan.

I’ll never forget that tear you went on, averaging 33 points per game, while wearing a mask due to a broken nose. Or that time that you injured your right shoulder but checked yourself back into the game and played left-handed.

I would be remiss not to mention your part in “The Redeem Team.” Thank you for dominating the 2008 Olympics and getting a gold medal for the USA. Add five NBA championships and countless NBA records; forget Michael Jordan and Space Jam, they should have made a movie about you.

On-court heroics aside, we also loved you equally as a person. Whether you were kicking soccer balls with fans, making cheesy commercials or jumping over speeding sports cars (I still say the video is real) you always let the tough side of Kobe go when you needed to.

It’s hard to say that I relate to a millionaire greatest-of-all-time athlete, but I do. I believe you did this on purpose. You made yourself accessible for millions of kids all over the world and you did your best to set an example that we could all follow. 

There will be naysayers who try to find a way to tarnish your legacy, but I speak for generations of children when I say we will not let that happen. You may have been a God on the court, but we realize you are still human. 

Thank you for allowing us to see both sides of you. We mourn as a family along with Vanessa, Natalia, your two young baby girls, and your teammates. Our hearts are broken not only for you, but your little Gigi who went with you. The only consolation we have is that she is with her loving father right now.

I really just wanted to take a minute to thank you, but I suppose this letter is pointless, you’ll never get to read it. I wonder, should I ball up this paper and throw it in the trash can while saying ‘Kobe’? Actually, I think I’ll take a page from your book: a mic drop preceded by the words: Mamba out.

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