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Itís hard for me to separate the two

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Posted 02-24-2020 at 10:41 AM by neugey

*** Reposting this to blog today in honor of 2/24, the day of Kobe Bryant Memorial Ceremony.

Itís hard for me to separate the two. Being a Lakers fan and a Saints fan.

I had these observations during this season that seemed silly and biased to comment to you all about. In the last few years, there were little moments where Drew reminded me a lot of Kobe. Drew injuring his hand and wearing that brace and obviously stewing because he wanted like crazy to be out on the field. With Brees, heís either got the ball or heís got the surface tablet looking at highlights. In some sense, heís never really on the sidelines. So Kobe. Then this December against the Colts, Drew topped the TD record AND to top it off set the single game completion-percentage mark. I just felt so damn spoiled watching that and it gave me vibes of watching Kobeís Mamba-Out final game, all over again.

I really felt like none of that should matter at all to any of you. But now I feel the need to tell the story. I was a Lakers fan about 7 years before I became a Saints fan. The showtime era was just too much fun and it pulled me in and my cousins got me hooked. The starting five of Magic-Worthy-Byron-AC-Kareem and the steely leadership of Pat Riley broke through my invisible plane of general disinterest in sports. It also informed me that I could be an actual fan from afar, that I was not infringing on something I was not supposed to be part of.

When I saw the Dome Patrol butt heads on Monday Night Football in the 90ís, I loved watching the relentlessness, the kicker with the thunderous leg and just all the mystique of the uniforms, the colors and the Dome. The Saints were a dark horse at a time when I felt okay with a dark horse, as the Lakers in those years were in a transitional state with Divac, Threatt, Peeler, Eddie Jones, Cellabos, Van Exel. Though less successful I found those years to be just about as enjoyable as the Showtime years. Fantasy football and ESPN were starting to take off and it felt like it wouldnít be totally impractical to adopt the Saints, so I took the plunge and never looked back, on either team.

As a fan, Iíve long tried to just focus on enjoying the sport and being a supportive fan and itís hard to get me to buy into hero worship or buying lots of memorabilia. I think itís because when Magic contracted HIV and we thought it was going to be fatal it really stung me. That combined with my mom passing away in 1993 made me reluctant to get too close again and there was no real need to have a sports star be a hero for a void that could never be filled.

Like a lot of others, I suffered from Jordan/Bulls fatigue in the 90ís. So I had mixed feeling when the Lakers obtained Kobe and he had this presumptive attitude to overtake Mike. I kind of hoped Kobe would do his own thing. Those first few years were awkward, but I began to see the promise in him at times when Del Harris was coaching him that he could be something a little more than just a meager copy of Jordan.

My daughters were born at the start of the 2000ís and with the unlikely hire of Phil Jackson the Lakers spoiled me with the 3-peat. So those memories of my daughters as babies and the Kobe-Shaq-Phil version of the team are pretty entwined. Nu metal, changing diapers, Lakers rings, me. Oh and pretty soon, this little thing called blackandgold.net. Fun times.

When Kobe had his transgression in Colorado, I have to be honest - I still rooted for the team in a big way, but kept my support of Kobe at armís length. I wanted to be objective and see how Kobe was really going to handle it. What I didnít plan on was Kobe stubbornly playing every possible Lakers game he could during that season, despite commuting between Colorado courtrooms and wherever the Lakers were, never giving any quarter. He absorbed the shots so many people took at him and just keep on taking shots at the hoop. In hindsight, I'm happy that the late David Stern let him play those games, rather than suspending him. Because, despite all the trouble he was going through - his marriage being in jeopardy and his future being uncertain - it seemed like inexplicably his biggest fear was letting the team down. He never did, and if it wasnít for running into such a well-balanced Pistons team in the Finals the Lakers would have won it all in 03-04.

Kobe changed his jersey number and got a few tattoos and you could see a desire to grow and learn from his big personal mistake. But it was a long process for Kobe to rebuild his legacy. And it really didnít become tangible until a few years later, when Phil Jackson rejoined the Lakers. Phil, at that point, had basically burned out and written off Kobe. The front office was also clashing with Kobe. To see the organization and both men put that bitterness behind them and build a new and improved partnership out of ashes, better versions of themselves, was very remarkable. And in a few years, they leveraged that rebuilt kinship to win two more championships. The element of redemption in those two championships is one of the most profound things I have ever witnessed in sports (the Saints return to the Dome after Katrina being the other big one). Those two latter Lakers championships are the Lakers ones I will always cherish the most, because of the wisdom Phil and Kobe and others acquired through that complicated journey.

The latter part of Kobeís career came with injuries, difficulty and tragedy in the front office and coaching strife. But there were always flourishes of vintage Kobe, and his final game was the encore of all encores. My daughters were growing and they began to play basketball and get into the Lakers with me. But funny thing, they never wanted to be Kobe. They wanted to be Derek Fisher and play with Kobe.

About 9 years ago, my oldest daughterís basketball team (rec league, 5th grade) had the coach back out at the last minute. They were asking if any parents wanted to coach and I saw my daughterís face light up and I decided to jump in. But had I never seen what Phil had done in his return, and the grace him and Kobe showed in that second go-around, I would have undoubtedly said no and the little boy inside that didnít care much for sports and only lasted one year in cub scouts would have been the voice inside that would have won out. And I would have missed out on so many tiny life lessons I learned coaching those girls that year and the joy in watching those other girls grow and graduate in my daughterís class.

That is what hurts the worst, losing those coaches, parents and girls on that chopper because we all can relate, simply taking/traveling with your kids to a game. Iíve also had to tell my daughters that their mom died, and it was the most powerless experience I ever had in my life. That is only a fraction of what Vanessa Bryant has to deal with now.

I may not have the Mamba mentality (few truly do), but on the whole, Kobe helped me feel a little more fearless, a little more willing to go out on a limb in certain areas in my life. For that, I offer Kobe my deep thanks and I hope that Kobeís family can find comfort, in spades. I have great sympathy for Lakers GM Rob Pelinka who was Kobeís best friend and the rest of the Lakers staff. I really donít know how they will handle this now to try to keep the spirit of playing for Kobe but have enough time to have a memorial and funeral for Kobe. Tough decisions. I will continue to hurt watching those historic Lakers and other NBA greats have to come together under such sad circumstances. But I donít know any other way to be a fan.

Thank you for reading if you made it this far, and I will be putting this in a blog. Take care gang.
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  1. Old Comment
    Halo's Avatar
    Kobe. Such a sad story.
    Posted 03-18-2020 at 02:45 PM by Halo Halo is online now

  2. Old Comment
    MaggieMayTB's Avatar
    very honest. good read.
    Posted 09-13-2020 at 07:17 PM by MaggieMayTB MaggieMayTB is offline
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