This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
These were some of the words that rocked the world last Monday as one of the greatest basketball players to ever grace the court announced that he would be retiring from the NBA after his 20th season. In a poem entitled “Dear Basketball”, the five-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and seventeen-time NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant, self-styled as The Black Mamba, traced his devotion to the sport to his early years before bidding goodbye to the game that he dedicated his life to.
Social media was abuzz with this announcement at the start of the week. The Kobe loyalists were predictably quick to show full support for their idol, but the fact that reaction to the news came from all walks of life was an indication that what had happened was more than just news. Especially amidst all the drama happening in the Philippine political scene, it was refreshing to see people, whether die-hard basketball fan or not, share their sentiments on Kobe’s retirement. In a sense, it was the universal reaction that proved Kobe was truly a great player and that this story was much bigger than him or the game itself.
One way to put it is that the world sees Kobe as the Michael Jordan of this generation. While many still remember Jordan at the peak of his career, Kobe was an athlete whose evolution from confident 18-year old high schooler to 37-year old legend was closely followed. With technology, Kobe has represented basketball in a way that Michael Jordan never could. Kobe’s prime and eventual decline happened to coincide with the rise of social media, and unlike Jordan, his every move has been scrutinized by the world in real time.
Looking back at the twenty years of Kobe’s career, it should be clear by now that it has always been his absolute dedication to the sport that has attracted so many fans to his camp. Kobe’s insatiable drive to be better at basketball is what people try to imitate, regardless of the field they specialize in. Every fan who is also an aspiring photographer, chef, marketer, writer, doctor, or lawyer, channels their inner Kobe in one way or another. Those who didn’t religiously watch the game would have at least encountered him in some other form: stories of Kobe on- and off-court, a friend counting down the clock as he made an imaginary winning shot into the nearest trashcan, an argument on an ordinary Tuesday night about how much better Kobe is than LeBron or even Michael Jordan himself, a snap of someone’s best Kobe impersonation. One just has to look back to the reception of his four visits to the Philippines to see how his influence has effortlessly permeated our local borders.
Love him or hate him, Kobe’s big announcement changes the narrative of basketball drastically. His career has seen him maintaining a relentless drive to cement his status as the greatest player of his generation while seamlessly adapting to the changes happening around him. Now that Kobe’s farewell tour has officially started, his retirement leaves a gap that is extremely difficult to fill: after Michael Jordan was Kobe, but after Kobe, who? Will it be LeBron? Steph Curry? KD? Nobody truly knows yet, but Kobe will be one tough act to follow.