I have a morning ritual. I walk straight from my bed into a hot shower, comb my hair, and head downstairs for breakfast. I pour myself a big bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with a sliced banana and 2% milk and wolf it down while I read the sports section of the Oregonian. I consume every word of NBA news and practically memorize the box scores from the night before. Then, I head off to school.
The year is 2000. I am in sixth grade. I have gold braces on my teeth, bleached hair on my head, Air Jordans on my feet, and a chain around my neck.
And in my world, public enemy #1 is Kobe Bryant.
I am a fan of the Portland Trailblazers. Actually, I’m kind of obsessed with them. And this year is special. This year we’re going all the way baby.
That’s right. All the way. First championship since 1977, and the first since I’ve been alive. I’m sure of it. Well… almost sure of it.
The regular season is winding down, and we have the 2nd best record in the league. The only team ahead of us is the LA Lakers. They ended the season 67-15. But we beat ‘em twice already, and I know we can outlast them in the playoffs.
First round of the playoffs:
Easy peezy. We beat the Timberwolves 3 games to 1. Meanwhile, the Lakers go to a full 5 games against the 8 seed Kings - good sign!
No problem. We deconstruct the Jazz and beat them 4 games to 1.
Western Conference Finals:
We’ve arrived! My beloved Blazers vs. the LA Lakers. Any true NBA fan who doesn’t live in Indiana or New York knows that this is the real NBA finals. This is the most important showdown of my young life.
The series goes back and forth, culminating in a 7th and final game. With only 10 minutes left in the game, Blazers are up by 15. Holy shit, are we actually going to pull this off? We’re taking down the Lakers! Championship here we come!
After a furious Laker comeback, the game is tied with 1:34 left on the clock.
Over the next 25 seconds, Kobe hits two free throws and then a jumper over Scottie. The Lakers are now up 4 with under a minute left. And then …. Kobe seals the deal with a devastatingly beautiful alley-oop to Shaq.
Blazers lose. My 12-year-old heart is broken. Kobe instantly becomes my enemy.
But over the years, the enmity morphed into respect, then into fandom, and then into a sad nostalgia as I watched Kobe play his final season and retire.
During the course of his storied career, I lived in both Portland and Los Angeles, and I feel so grateful to have had the privilege of seeing Kobe’s greatness up close.
Thanks for all the memories Kobe. Thanks for the arguments you caused between me and my Laker-fan friends. Thanks for inspiring a generation of young players. Thanks for teaching me the power of focus and hard work.
A close friend of ours also lost her sister suddenly this past week, leaving behind her husband, two sisters, and two parents. It is tragically unnatural and unfair for a parent to have to bury their child. We are thinking today not just of Erika and Kobe and Gianna, but of their families.
Life is so fragile. Death is so random and unfair.
Hug your people close today.
Here’s to Erika, Kobe, and Gianna.
We are so glad you were here.