It’s been almost two weeks since your last game in a Lakers uniform, and it’s still crazy to think that you’re never playing an NBA game again. You entered the league right as I was born, and now that you’ve retired, it’s really a bittersweet moment for me and millions of others. I wanted to wait at least a week before I wrote this so I wouldn’t be a prisoner of the moment. If I had written this the night you dropped 60, I might have proclaimed you the GOAT – greater than MJ, Magic, Kareem, anyone. Now that I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts, I can “objectively” say you’re my GOAT, not THE GOAT. For the longest time, you were invincible; battling through injuries after injuries, season after season. Yet, Father Time is undefeated. I would thank you for 20 seasons of giving it your absolute all, but there’s more.
Now, I might not have been able to model much of your game with my 6”3′ un-athletic frame (I’m working on it), but for as long as I can remember, I’ve looked up to you. I grew up playing the game; elementary school, middle school, high school, and now in college. In the future, I may be up to other things – working on new ventures and making moves in other areas – but you’ll never see me separated from basketball for more than 24 hours. Never have, never will. Basketball has become much more than a game; it’s become a lifestyle. And I don’t say that with the clichéd “ball is life” mindset that has become far too popular. And I also don’t say that with the mindset many aspiring basketball players might have, that basketball is the be-all and end-all. I say so because basketball has been and continues to be one of my greatest teachers in life; something I owe you, Kobe, a lot of credit for.
From your personal trials and tribulations over the years, I’ve learnt to sacrifice, to see the beauty in the struggle, and to outwork everyone, period. You truly epitomized the “fake it till you make it” mentality, and man did you make it; you became the closest thing to MJ we will ever see. You’re the MJ of our generation, and the GOAT in my books. Above all else however, you’ve taught me to stay true to myself; and for that, I cannot thank you enough. I sincerely hope the Lakers retire both 8 and 24. It shows not only your transformation as a basketball player, but also as a leader and a person. Perhaps 20 years down the line, I can do the same and look back at every jersey I’ve worn, remember the kind of person I was at the time, and appreciate how basketball has shaped me as a person. Until then, it’s up to me to not talk the talk, but walk the walk. Vino.