Immortalizing Kobe’s Greatness

Written by Bob on December 1st, 2015

YUCAIPA, Calif. – I have never been much of a Kobe Byant fan. Principally because he’s a Laker and I’ve hated the Lakers ever since they snuck out of Minneapolis in 1960 and had all that enviable success in LaLa Land, and all that ballyhooed “Showtime” with Magic and company.

But now that Kobe has officially announced his retirement at the end of the season, I will be watching his every move to cache his greatness in my basketball memory bank.

To remember as long as I can ward off dementia, his incredible clutch 3-pointers; his drives in the lane and slamming the ball down through the hoop over taller opponents; his unstoppable post-up and fall-away jump shot from 15-feet along the baseline; his demanding the ball to take the clutch shot under intense pressure that more often than not was the game-winner for the Lakers.

I’ve been an ardent NBA fan since a little kid in the 1950s, watching the game’s greatest players perform during Sunday’s Game of The Week on a grainy, oval black and white TV. I want to remember Kobe as I have remembered the stars I’ve idolized for the past 60 years:

The Lakers Jerry West (1960-1974) will forever remain No. 1. I can still see West’s incredibly quick pull-up jump shot from the top of the key, from the left and right elbows, off a pick-and-roll, from the baseline; from nearly anywhere on the court – including a 60-foot shot at the buzzer to beat the Knicks in the 1970 playoffs.

I close my eyes and I can still see “Mr. Clutch” – as he was so suitably crowned – releasing the ball at the height of his jump shot, the ball spinning and arcing ever so perfectly off the tips of his fingers and swishing through the net.

I would shoot hundreds of shots in a cleared-out space in the haymow of our barn, in freezing Minnesota winter weather with mittens on, trying to make West’s shot, my shot.

I would lie awake in bed at night, snapping and spinning the basketball off my finger tips toward the ceiling, trying to perfect West’s shot, making his shot, my shot.

But I remember watching other great players who instilled within me a great love for the game.

Sam and K.C. Jones of the Celtics. Sam (1957-1969) the great mid-range scorer with his jump shot from 12 to 15 feet out that he often banked off the backboard. Oh how I copied that shot. And K.C. (1958-1967), who demonstrated that tenacious defense earns court time and wins championships.

…The speedy and gifted ball handling Hal Greer (1958-1973) of the 76ers…Julius (Dr. J) Erving (1971-1987), one of the greatest leapers and dunkers the game will ever see…John “Hondo” Havlicek of the Celtics (1962-1978), not especially gifted, but with a stamina and energy that exhausted opponents trying to keep up with him…

…And there’s point guard John Stockton (1984-2003) and power forward Karl “The Mailman” Malone (1985-2004) of the Utah Jazz that ran the pick-and-roll like no other guard and forward in the history of the game…

…Celtics center Bill Russell (1956-1969), whose defense in the paint was unmatched in his era…and my final Celtic, Larry Bird (1979-1992), whose epic battles with Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Lakers will live on forever in basketball lore.

So many great players that I remember, and now Kobe will join their legacy after this his final season. A season in which I will watch and file away Kobe moments in my basketball memory bank along with Mr. Clutch and the many wonderfully talented players who have instilled within me this intense of love of the game.

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