The Night Kobe Won Me Back

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has also been about a month and 12 days since the legendary Kobe Bryant’s passing, as well as his daughter Gianna and the seven other souls on board that were with them that fateful January day.

Within my laptop, I pretty much have an essay of my thoughts on Kobe and the personal stories on how he has impacted on my life — as well as millions others — growing up. The legendary good times and how he has deepened my love for basketball, as well as the unfortunate dark times. You know, my personal experiences on top of what has already been said by the rest of the world.

I’ve been going back and forth within myself as to whether publish it or not, but I ultimately decided not to upload it. Probably not anytime soon. Maybe one day. But for now. I am focusing on a more recent memory, that is most likely buried in other people’s minds, but had a lasting impression on me when it comes to the Raptors. While everyone will most likely guess that I am thinking about his legendary 2006 81-point game, well…yeah, but nope.

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It was the 2012–2013 NBA season. This was around the time when the Raps were starting to look and perform better than how the city remembered them to be. But at the same time, this was a fairly uneasy and equally exciting time to be a Raptors fan. This was Kyle Lowry’s first season with the Raptors (rocking #3, since Primo Pasta Bargs still owned #7). It was somewhat of a tense time, as Lowry in a way was the Raptors’ plan B after failing to woo an aging-but-still-capable Steve Nash to play for his home country’s sole team. Lowry, on the other hand, seemed resigned to be a journeyman after rocky stints with the Grizzlies and the Rockets. This season was also Terrence Ross’ and Jonas Valančiūnas’ rookie season. Ross wins the Slam Dunk contest during the All-Star Weekend in Houston with a real dope Vince Carter tribute. JV debuted after missing his draft season back in 2011 as he was still fulfilling his contractual duties back home in Lithuania. Most importantly, this was the Gay-Colangelo era, which in my opinion was the turning point that paved the way to what the Toronto Raptors is what they are today. Rudy Gay looked promising as a core player in the team beside fundamental players such as DeMar, who is starting to be the next face of the franchise post-Bosh. This was also when the team had Primo Pasta (yeesh), Amir Johnson (I love him), and…Sebastian Telfair (double yeesh since man’s in jail now.) But yeah anyways, this was just right before the Raps’ first playoff season since 2007, so things were looking hopeful.

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Meanwhile, on the other end was the Lakers. That season was ultra-hyped with both the media and the fans. To them, that was supposedly the season wherein they will bounce back to glory since their chip from 2009. A super team is about to wreck havoc upon the league. Kobe’s got a supposed lethal combo with him as the Lakers had acquired legendary Steve Nash and promising Dwight Howard (good to see you again in the Lake Show, my man) to bolster Kobe and Ron Arte — Metta Worldpeace’s game. Oh and Earl Clark (who?) The Lakers are unstoppable now, with a dynasty in the near horizon.

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Yeah, nope. The mythical super team turned out to be a dud; a concoction of friction between play styles, egos and all things in-between. The Lakers were garbage. Head coach Mike Brown was fired, and Mike D’Antoni replaces him. Still didn’t work out too much. Yeah, they eventually scraped their way into the playoffs as the 7th seed (practically at the bottom with the Rockets with a record of 45–37) only to get absolutely rinsed by the Spurs in the Western Conference. So yeah, it was a painful time to be a Laker fan, and definitely for Kobe, with all of his competitiveness resulting much for naught majority of the season.

But this isn’t about all of that, but rather it is just to paint one stroke in the overall masterpiece portrait of Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality.

It was March 8, 2013. Despite being a late-night game, my family and I were fully tuned-in on the television. We’ve been following this season real closely. As I said before, the Raptors were looking real promising, so it was an exciting time to be a fan indeed. The Raptors were in enemy territory against a sold-out Staples Centre Laker nation. This was the third and final time in the season that they are facing each other, with the previous two games won by the Raptors. The basketball world in a way wrote off the Lakers at this point, even myself. The Lakers was heavily injured, and was solely being carried by Kobe, with the last game prior against the Pelicans wearing on his aging frame after rallying the team from a 25-point deficit to notch a win. That night, it’s all taking its toll on him.

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The night was a rollercoaster. The first and third quarters were won by the Raptors. DeRozan was on fire in the paint playing in his hometown, notching 28 points that night. Rudy was somewhat terrible with 7–26 in the paint but was still able to add in 17 points. Lowry and Jv had 15 and 12 respectively, and second-stringers John Lucas III and Alan Anderson put up 11 and 17. Pasta on the other hand had…two. Yup. To be fair, he did injure his elbow, but…well.

Despite the lack of glue between the team, Nash and Howard nonetheless put up 22 and 24 points, with the rest of the team contributing single-digits. Kobe on the other hand, was doing Kobe things.

With 1:45 left on the clock in the 4th quarter, the score is at 105–100 in favour of the Raptors. The Raps were trying to pull away from Kobe’s blazing performance. Kobe has the ball from Steve Nash after Howard’s clutch block on Gay. He is against Anderson. He patiently dribbles the ball at the right wing, killing the shot clock. He pumps a fake and almost got Anderson falling for it, but narrowly avoids a foul. Kobe then shoots with 2 seconds left on the shot clock…and drains the buzzer beater. I was standing at this point, because now its only a one-possession game. But no worries, the Raps still got this. Anderson makes a layup from Lowry’s assist.107–103.

After a brief hectic back-and-forth, the Lakers call a timeout after a Jodie Meeks rebound (Oh, Jodie. He got a ring with the boys though ❤) With 31.7 seconds left, Steve Nash inbounds the ball from the left wing to Kobe. Kobe catches and immediately shoots a three-pointer from the corner over Anderson. Bang. 107–106.

Kyle is fouled on the next play by Howard. I was holding my breath. He hits both of his free throws. 109–106. The shot clock is dead, with 8 seconds left. The Lakers call for their last timeout. The Raps still have three of theirs left.

D’Antoni subs in Steve Blake for Meeks. Blake is looking for an open Laker to inbound the ball, but more specifically the Black Mamba, who was trying to get open. Rudy and Amir double-teams Kobe, but the Mamba slithers his way by juking both defenders out, cutting past them and receives the inbound. He pumps another fake, losing Amir as he bites the bait. Gay tries his best defensively, putting his hand over and in front of Kobe. He shoots. 5.5 seconds. Bang.

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Staples erupts.

I scream.

109–109.

The Raps use a timeout.

Rudy Gay shoots.

No dice.

Overtime.

Five more minutes.

More like eternity.

Another frantic thrilling back-and-forth ensued between the Raptors and the Lakers for the most of OT. Then with 45 seconds left, Steve Nash ties the game with a three-pointer.

Of course.

OF.

COURSE.

115–115.

Rudy tries to be the hero. Iron. Howard grabs the rebound and gets the ball too Kobe.

Kobe runs the clock. Anderson intent on stopping him. Aaron Gray runs from under the basket to help double Kobe.

(Guys…why’d ya’ll make the paint man do the job? Yeah…the beginning of the Dwane Casey era was pretty flawed. It eventually got better…but…well, sigh.)

10 seconds.

Kobe blows by the double D and goes for the basket.

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Kobe dunks the ball.

DeMar gets put on a poster.

The crowd goes berserk.

I fall to the floor.

The game didn’t end there. There was 10 seconds still left after Kobe’s dagger dunk. But it was pretty much a wrap at that point. Anderson missed 1 of his 2 free throws, and Steve Nash hammers the nail with making both his free throws to end the game at 116–118.

I had mixed emotions about any superstar player who was against our Raps at that time. I still do. Just like every other fan outside the Bulls hated MJ, I hated LeBron, and I hated Kobe as well before that game, albeit still respected him. But after three consecutive prayers and a dunk that night, he regained the rest of my utmost respect for him.

Kobe Bryant later tore his achilles at the penultimate game of that season, sidelining him to miss the rest of the postseason, and marked the beginning of the end. Extra sodium with the fact that Kobe never played in the playoffs ever again, with the last time being the postseason the year before. But as Kobe being Kobe, that achilles game was yet another hallmark Mamba moment, opting to shoot his two free throws despite the pain.

He made it of course.

He may be gone, but his Mamba Mentality has been instrumental in pushing — and still is pushing me to get up from my behind up when I don’t feel like doing what I need — or am scared — to do.

It may be nothing but another game in his illustrious career greatly overshadowed by many more games after, especially with the afformentioned 81-point game (against you-know-who) and his final 60-point game. But on that poetic 8th night of March seven years ago, I saw a glimpse of the number 8 kid from Philly flash its way out once again in the form of number 24.

That night was when I came back to Kobe and sealed the Mamba Mentality in me once again.

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Rest in Paradise, Kobe & Gianna Bryant. Payton & Sarah Chester. Alyssa, Keri & John Altobelli. Christina Mauser. Ara Zobayan.

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