The Athlete I Hated The Most

There was not an athlete I hated more than Kobe Bryant.

You could have asked me that five years ago or ten. You could have asked me the night LeBron James passed him on the all-time scoring list, just hours before news of his death broke.

You could have asked me ten minutes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski brutally confirmed the TMZ report that the Lakers legend had died in a helicopter crash, a tweet which felt too hard to believe.

You could ask me right now, about a month after his death and on the day a public memorial will be held for him and his daughter Gianna at Staples Center, and the answer is still the same.  The answer will probably never change.

I spent ages five to 10 falling in love with sports and watching Kobe Bryant rip my heart out practically every time the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs.  The Lakers were our kryptonite.  We couldn’t do anything against them.

We couldn’t do anything against Kobe Bryant.

Bryant made me cry multiple times growing up. Despite us defeating them in the first round of the playoffs in 2005-06 and in the second round the next year, Kobe got his revenge in the biggest way in 2010, denying us our final chance at winning the championship or even making the Finals with that core group in 2010.  Game 6 of those Western Conference Finals was the third worst moment of my life.  We’d finally gotten passed the Spurs, sweeping them in the second round. Bryant was the final test.  I just wanted to make the Finals.  Just so Steve Nash could say he had been there before.

Nope.  As expected, Kobe took those early exits earlier in the decade personally, just as he did everything.  He made us pay.

Kobe put up 37 on 12-15 shooting that night in Phoenix.  His stats and overall performance don’t represent how good he was.  It wasn’t like he dropped a 50 burger, or hit a ton of threes (He was 3-8 that night).  He was just really good, and hit four of the toughest shots I’ve seen anyone ever make to continually put Phoenix away.  He made Phoenix suffer that night.  There was nothing we could do.

I hated Kobe Bryant for that game and for his game overall.  He was selfish, didn’t pass, treated his teammates poorly and took incredibley bad shots – shots he knew were bad.  But he didn’t care.

I hated him for his cockiness, for his ridiculous feud with Shaq that split up what could have been the most successful run of all-time, and yes, for the Colorado incident that he seemed to get off of way too easily. It’s something that routinely gets forgotten and is kept quiet by the NBA on purpose. It shouldn’t overshadow Kobe and the family man he eventually came to be, but it needs to be mentioned.

Kobe didn’t let it overshadow his career though, which saw him win five rings, two Finals MVPs, a regular season MVP, become the second best pure bucket-getter of all time, go down as the defining player of the league’s most storied and popular team and finish as the ninth best player of all-time.  He was the player of the generation between Michael Jordan and LeBron. Guys that were too young to be MJ guys followed Kobe because LeBron wasn’t there and ready for that yet.

I hated Kobe Bryant the most though because of what he continually did to my Suns, in the playoffs or not. It was the Lakers that got the glory. It was the Lakers who were successful and actually won. It was them who Phoenix aspired to be and beat. We couldn’t because we couldn’t beat Kobe. We couldn’t because we didn’t have Kobe, or anyone nearly as good him. Not even close.

Sports are about competition though. Sports aren’t fun when blowouts occur – when one team is so much better than the other. Good games are never not close. It’s the heat of competition that gets us going so much over what’s happening in front of our eyes or on our TV screens.

When your side of that competition loses, it can be heartbreaking. It was for me multiple times.

But perhaps then, and even still now, I lost sight of what was truly happening in those Nash-Kobe duels. It was competition. At the highest level possible. That was as good as it got.

Those games wouldn’t have been fun with the Lakers kicked Phoenix’s butt. They honestly wouldn’t have been as much fun if Phoenix kicked the Lakers butt. Those games were fun because those type of games almost never happened. Both teams were too good.

It would have been nice for the Suns to win those games sometimes. They hardly did, it felt like. But I almost would rather have it the way it played out than have the Suns destroy the Lakers every time. Those games taught me how to love sports, and how to hate them too. They built good discipline for me. They taught me how to truly appreciate the game of basketball.

I’ve always said that the day I meet Steve Nash for the first time, the first thing I would tell Nash is “Thank you for making me fall in love with basketball.”

Kobe’s death made me realize that I should probably be thanking him too.