I didn’t like Kobe. 

I didn’t like how arrogant he was. 

I didn’t like how easy it all looked. He scored whenever he wanted, and almost always for a team I cheered against. 

I didn’t like him for being a ball hog and a bad teammate.

I didn’t like his legal history. 

This was how I felt about Kobe most of his career. Most of my life. I never met him, interviewed him or covered a game in which he played. I only saw him play in-person a couple times. 

And then, I learned how wrong I was about him.

Mamba led the World in self-confidence.  And yes, he took a ton of shots. But he WORKED tirelessly to EARN that confidence… to EARN those shots. It looked easy because he WORKED to make it look easy. He won championships because he WORKED for them. He loved basketball more than most people love anything. He grew up with a successful father who instilled that passion in him. And on the day he died, just three NBA players ever had scored more points than him. He’s truly seated among the greatest of the greats. 

I’m the same age as Kobe. I grew up as he grew up. And as we aged I started to understand him more. I think many of his long-time fans appreciated what I did not. The “Mamba Mentality” appealed to fans of not only the Lakers but to fans who enjoyed a player starving to win and willing to take the big shot, for better or worse. Opponents feared him. And toward the end of his career his passion stood out more than ever, even as the championships dried up. And on the night of his final game, I cheered at a TV screen in our office as Kobe poured in 60 points. 

And then… Sunday happened.

The circumstances are clearly unique. He died in a helicopter which was en route to a sports academy he founded for a youth basketball tournament. But scrape away the affluence and you’ll see he was doing something all involved parents would do. He died taking his daughter to a game, an engaged and devoted father. We’ll never know what her future would have revealed, and the sadness for her loss equals what I think we all feel about losing Kobe. It’s just a shame. Same goes for every person who lost their life Sunday.

When I first saw what happened I had just returned home from taking my sons to their Special Olympics swim practice. You best believe I didn’t waste a second with them. I called my parents and said I love you to them over the phone. I texted with my brother. I hugged my wife a little longer. I think we were all rattled because if it could happen to him, it could happen to all of us. 

When heroes die, we’re reminded that even the most legendary of figures is a human being. We’re all imperfect and we’re all running short on time. Kobe had well-known issues. He had famously feuded with his own parents for years. They all had their reasons, I’m sure. 

And today I feel guilty I ever wasted a day rooting against Kobe. He was well on his way to a 2nd act which could equal or surpass his playing career (he’d already won an Academy Award). It would have been special to watch. 

I disliked a legend. For no good reason.

Lesson learned. 

Mamba Out.