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Farewell, Kobe

He may not be the greatest Laker to don the purple and gold, but he’s the most influential.

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Farewell, Kobe

Lakers forward Kobe Bryant waves to fans during warmups before a game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 29, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Lakers forward Kobe Bryant waves to fans during warmups before a game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 29, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Robert Gauthier | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Lakers forward Kobe Bryant waves to fans during warmups before a game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 29, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Robert Gauthier | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Robert Gauthier | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Lakers forward Kobe Bryant waves to fans during warmups before a game against the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 29, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Matthew Peralta, Social Media Editor

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It wasn’t love at first dribble when I started playing basketball in the third grade. In games, I was petrified every time I got the ball because I didn’t know what to do. Do I dribble? Do I shoot?

Before I knew it the ball was out of my hands and the other team was running down the court. I was ready to quit. But one day, a Lakers game that was playing in my living room caught my eye and I decided to watch.

The Lakers were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. I don’t remember very many specifics about that game now, but I do remember watching a certain player wearing a golden number eight jersey. I turned to my dad and asked, “Who’s that guy?”

“That’s Kobe Bryant,” my dad said.

Kobe Bryant. That was the first time I had heard his name. Eight-year-old me was so mesmerized watching him on TV. The way his body would fall back so gracefully on each fade-away he shot. The relentlessness he displayed when driving into the paint. The way he would dance with his defender and pull up in his face.

Splash.

From that moment on, I watched Lakers games religiously. I glued myself to the floor and watched, as the Lakers would come out to the court. I loved all of them: Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, etc. But my eyes were always fixated on Kobe. I watched him the entire game. Every time he had the ball in his hands, I waited in anticipation for his next move. Would he dribble? Would he shoot?

The years went by, and the names on the backs of the jerseys changed. I wasn’t watching Shaq, Fisher and Horry anymore. Now it was Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Smush Parker. However, there was always one player that remained a constant during those tumultuous Lakers seasons.

Kobe.

The team wasn’t nearly as talented, but that didn’t stop Kobe. I watched every signature game of his during that stretch. 62 points in three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks, the game-winner against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the first round of the 2006 playoffs, 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. Each game still gives me goose bumps because of just how awe-inspiring they were.

The first two years of high school for me were a blur, but I do remember the back-to-back championships the Lakers won. Each title made my body feel like it was about to burst with joy. Kobe was at the forefront of those titles, winning the Finals MVP both times. The pure elation of winning those championships will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Those titles came at a pivotal moment in my life. Starting to think about potential careers heading into college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that it needed to be in basketball.

I loved it too much.

I still watch every game even though the Lakers are the worst team in the Western Conference. And, like clockwork, Kobe Bryant is still there on my TV screen, hoisting up shots like he did the first time I saw him.

Except now the fade-aways look more like heaves with no prayer of going in. The explosive drives to the basket resemble the tires of a car blowing out. The pull-up jump shots that used to bring rain down from the skies?

Clang.

But, that’s okay. After spending more than half his life playing professional basketball, results like these are to be expected. The days of scoring at will and single-handedly delivering wins are over. Even though the Lakers are currently losing games left and right, Kobe will always mean more to the City of Angels than anyone can possibly fathom.

It’s been an honor and a pleasure to watch you, Mr. Bryant. You’ve done more for me and countless others than you will ever know.

Thank you.

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