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Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury forces reflection on incredible career

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Bryant walks off the court, but he'll be back. (Getty Images)
Bryant walks off the court, but he'll be back. (Getty Images)

I hate Kobe Bryant.

I don't really know why I hate Kobe Bryant, but he's someone that just drives me insane. I nitpick at his accomplishments. Sure, he scored in the 30s again and had a couple of amazing plays, but he took more shots than he should and he didn't pass enough.

He's too arrogant as well. The way he walks around the court, chewing his gum in a way that mimics how Michael Jordan chewed gum drives me nuts. I wish Kobe would just be his own self and stop trying to imitate the greatest player of all time. He's never going to be Michael so he should just give it up.

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That's how I used to feel about Kobe Bryant. In fact, my feelings about Kobe were a lot less PG than I'm allowed to write in this space. I didn't really know why I hated him. I would try to find reasons, but for the most part I feel like I was almost conditioned to be bothered by him.

My feelings about him as a player and as a person changed on January 22, 2006.

I still remember the night really well. I was hanging out at a friend's apartment and a bunch of us were having drinks. We were making fun of her DVD collection because it had an unhealthy amount of Jennifer Lopez romantic comedies strewn about it. Then I got a text from my friend Chris, who is a Lakers fan.

"Kobe got 81."

That's not right. I mean... that can't be right, can it? What does he mean? He got 81 points? In one game? I texted him back asking for clarification and he responded that Kobe had just dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors.

It was the exclamation point of a ridiculous scoring run that Bryant had been on. A month earlier, he had scored 62 points in a little under 33 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks. Then a week later, he had a historic run of games in which he scored 45, 48, 50, 45, and 41 points. He was on such a crazy run of big number games that he had become appointment viewing, even more so than when he and Shaquille O'Neal were running the league.

If I couldn't watch his game in real time, I would DVR the game and come back to it before I had to leave for work the next day. I didn't even like Kobe, but I loved buckets. And as Bill Russell said, "this game will always be about buckets."

I went back and watched the Lakers outlast the Raptors. I watched Kobe giving buckets to Morris Peterson and Jalen Rose. I watched him slither to the basket, find his spots on the floor to rise up for a jumper, and be crafty enough to continue to get to the free throw line. Even though I knew the final total, I was rooting for more points as the game progressed.

And it was in that moment that I had a new mindset about Kobe. I liked him. Hell, I loved him. He was instantly one of my favorite players.

When I texted these feelings to Chris, he was baffled. I was the same salty Kobe detractor that had thrown potshots at Kobe for years while Chris probably rolled his eyes. Why the 180-degree turn? The arrogance, whether it was fair to label that personality trait as such or not, was justified. The cockiness, the bravado, the confidence that Kobe Bryant had in himself finally made sense to me.

I know that the matchup was weak that night. The Toronto Raptors were the worst defensive team in the NBA. Jose Calderon wasn't going to rotate over and dig from the weak side to strip the ball away from Bryant. Charlie Villanueva wasn't going to cut off the lane and force Kobe into an errant shot. But still, it's hard to say it was set up for him to do the historic things he did because it was something that had never been done before.

No guard had ever broken the 80-point barrier.

Since that night, I've marveled at Kobe and appreciated his game. Has it been perfect? No. Has it been miscalculated by his fans to a degree that makes you want to go the other way to even out the conversation? Sometimes. Has he been the best? The most clutch? The greatest winner? That's debatable.

But he's been great and his greatness is what makes his fans believe in him to the degree they do. Greatness allows you the security of believing that everything is going to turn out fine in the end. Kobe gave his fans that security, whether it ended up coming to fruition or not.

As I've watched with you over the years, we've seen him take and make shots no player should probably attempt. It's both a gift and a curse for Bryant and the Lakers. However, that's probably part of the fun of rooting for Kobe Bryant. The spectacular and the unheard of are always possible.

I learned to appreciate it and enjoy it, instead of continuing feelings I thought I was supposed to have as I did my best to "preserve history." At least that's what I thought I was doing when I tried to downplay whatever Kobe was accomplishing in the first half of his career. Instead of preserving history, all I was doing was ignoring history happening in front of me.

I don't know why I've been writing this like it's a eulogy. Kobe is going to come back. He's going to have the necessary procedure, heal up, and then get back to the work ethic that has helped him realize his greatness over the past 17 years. He's going to get together with trainer Tim Grover and go back to the same blood, sweat, and tears that have kept him out of the crosshairs of Father Time's vision.

Nobody who has followed Kobe, for even a fraction of his career, believes this Achilles injury will end his career. We all know he's going to do the work necessary to come back and probably still exude that greatness we've grown accustomed to with him. Even with his team struggling this season, we've seen a fight from him. It sucks that we probably won't get to see him fight for another year.

But he will fight again. I'll have my DVR ready when he does.

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