Spike: Remembering Kobe Bryant
Clutch is a real thing.
The following originally appeared in the Rights To Ricky Sanchez newsletter on January 27th, 2020.
I was never a Kobe guy. At some point during LeBron James’ career it seemed like you were either a Kobe guy or a LeBron guy, and I was very decidedly a LeBron guy (I’ve had a lot of phases in my life).
I was in high school at Episcopal Academy (when it was on City Line Avenue) at the same time Bryant was at Lower Merion, so I’ve always had to have an opinion about him, starting with his press conference at LM where he had sunglasses on his forehead.
If you were a LeBron guy arguing with a Kobe guy, you would celebrate the virtues of efficiency and versatility, while eschewing any belief that “clutch” really existed.
Deep down though, any person that was making the argument that I was, knew that they’d much rather see LeBron with the ball in his hands on the final play of a tie game on the opposing team than Kobe Bryant. Maybe not everybody felt that way, but I certainly did. If Kobe Bryant had the ball in a tie game as the seconds ran down, and I was a fan of the other team, I’d have been terrified.
The older I’ve gotten, the harder I’ve found it to argue the anti-Kobe part of that fight honestly. I mean here we are, Sixers fans, with a team full of players who make the right play, and dying for just one that will say “I’ve got this,” at the end of a game, and mean it. That’s what Kobe was, whether he actually had it or not. Believing you’ve got it under control is way more than half the battle.
In the interview with Chuck Klosterman in 2015 where he famously admitted he’d never be a great friend to anyone, Kobe Bryant seemed more self-aware than he had ever been. It was the first part of the “lean into it” phase that Bryant entered, in which he understood the perception of him that existed (in a lot of ways perpetuated by Bryant himself), and created a more endearing version of himself that combined with the end of his career made him seem charming, to me anyway.
Never has someone’s fans better exemplified who they were as a player than Kobe Bryant. I spent a lot of time on the internet just mentioning his name in a potentially disrespectful way (he’s not a Top 20 all time player, he’s the sixth best Laker), just to bait one of those maniacs into arguing with me. They were has driven to defend his honor as he was to be a great player, perhaps more. It’d be easy to dismiss that as trolls on the internet (even though it was me who was the troll), but I work with a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan in Ike Reese, and I can tell you, they’re exactly the same in real life. In the same way I’m accused of being a Process fan more than a Sixers fan, Kobe fans seem to be Kobe fans more than Lakers fans. While the ethos for being a Process fan seems to be counter to everything a Kobe fan is, the fact that it’s the ethos that drives you something more than the team itself, is the same. We may have raised a banner for Sam Hinkie, but don’t ever forget there was a Kobe Bryant fan who drove an hour on Christmas night just to argue, in person, with James Holas, who he was fighting about Kobe with on the internet.
We found out just after we recorded Sunday’s podcast that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others died in a helicopter crash. It was a tragic day for the families involved, and for all who knew and loved them.
For Bryant, many will miss him as a friend, his family will miss him as a father, son, husband, and as a brother.
As basketball fans, we’ll lose out on decades of post-career Kobe Bryant, where he’d go on television and say something about “not wanting it enough” regarding a player we’d like (with the self-aware smirk he’d developed), and we’d all publicly talk about how full of shit he was. Deep down though, we’d all have wanted someone who “wanted it” as much as Bryant did on our team. We’d all be just fine with someone who’s “got this” at the end of the game, even if they only actually had it 38% of the time.
Clutch is a real thing. Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant.