My nostalgia goggles are permanently attached to my head. That’s why I still view the early-mid 2000s as the greatest era of basketball. It’s why I think of Kobe Bryant as the final boss of the NBA for that decade. Losing him this early is like slamming the door on my childhood, and I imagine millions of others feel the same way.
I can trace my love of basketball to a handful childhood memories. One was getting a taste of playoff basketball when the Celtics played the Pacers in 2003. I remember nearly none of it, but I can still recall how important it felt. It was the first time basketball felt personal. I remember hearing the crowd noise through the TV and thinking about how much more passionate it sounded than usual.
Another is when I first starting watching SportsCenter in the mornings in hopes of catching Vince Carter highlights. I refused to miss the weekly Top-10 because I knew at least one mind-bending dunk of his would be in it. All I cared about back then was watching athletes getting a ball dunked through their skull.
And then there was the bridge from being a Celtics fan to an NBA fa: NBA Live 2003. To even begin to understand what this game symbolizes, you need to see the intro video.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first NBA Live game to have a rap song as the intro. It captured the essence of basketball in 2002 perfectly, and its tone is still reverberating today. Every tweet asking “Who’s stopping this team?” brings me back to Fabolous asking, “Who gon’ stop me when I’m in the lane? I come to entertain” etc.
One odd thing about my NBA upbringing is how completely oblivious I was to any Celtics/Lakers rivalry. So when I played NBA Live, I had three main teams: Celtics, Lakers, and Kings. The Celtics because they’re the Celtics, and the other two because they had the two highest-rated rosters in the game. This meant logging a lot of minutes with Kobe and Shaq if I wanted to beat up on the CPU. The Lakers were a cheat code.
This game was my basketball dictionary. It was a great reference to have when I watched Celtics games and, for the first time, had somewhat of an understanding of what to expect from the other team.
So, there’s the foundation of my NBA fandom. Pierce, Kobe, and Vince (with an honorary mention to Allen Iverson). From there, basketball essentially defined the rest of my life.
Basketball’s relationship with hip hop got me into rap music. The Chappelle Show skit that coined yelling “Kobe!” before throwing something in the trash introduced me to his comedy, which is important to me for two reasons:
1) Stand-up comedy is an archive of the greatest perspectives on just how terrible (and sometimes good) the world is. There are a lot of concepts I wouldn’t understand today if George Carlin hadn’t explained them so vividly.
2) Comedy is a big part of why I have the friends that I have. Long story short: I was bad at making friends in my teenage years (and every other year, I guess?). The first people I could think of as real friends in high school shared two interests with me: video games and comedy. The “Kobe!” thing was one of the first Chappelle Show skits they showed me because I was the “sports guy” of the group.
I don’t know where to go from here. This is the first time since those earliest memories that I don’t feel like basketball matters right now.
All I can think to do is share my favorite Kobe memory with everyone: