I gained consciousness of the NBA during the 1980s, back in the days when Earvin “Magic” Johnson, James Worthy, Byron Scott and all-time scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar formed the core of the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime era”.
Magic Johnson’s passion for the game and his long, hardcourt rivalry with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics kept me glued on television, even when their games were basically shown on delayed telecast at ABS-CBN or re-runs by GMA-7.
When Magic Johnson and Co. retired one by one as the NBA moved over to the new decade, it was apparent that the Lakers find a new face for the franchise.
LA obviously hit the jackpot when it finally landed the biggest free agent player in the market back in 1996–a young, powerful center by the name of Shaquille O’Neal, who left Orlando’s “Magic-land” to join Hollywood.
The Lakers front office wasn’t done when it parted ways with veteran center Vlade Divac after “gambling” for an 18-year-old, straight-out-of-high school-star named Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Shaq and Kobe’s tandem didn’t bring instant NBA title for the proud Lakers franchise.
But it was clear that when they learn to work together under a respectable coach and be surrounded by the right supporting cast, the Lakers can recapture their old glory.
And the Lakers did.
Shaq was a powerful force during his peak at the turn of the 21st century, leading the Lakers to three straight NBA championships in 2000-2002, working alongside Kobe, while playing under the guidance of Phil Jackson.
Personally, I thought when Shaq decided to leave LA after a forgettable Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 season, Kobe’s title chances would be more difficult to achieve.
But I was wrong.
Looking at what Kobe has achieved since his tandem with Shaq was dissolved, it was only a matter of time before he returned to the top of the NBA.
There’s no doubt that Kobe’s got a relentless work ethic and an insatiable appetite for winning–qualities that made him who he is today outside the shadows of Shaq.
So when the curtains for Kobe’s 20th NBA season ends a few months from now, the 37-year-old product of Lower Merion High will be leaving with long list of achievements that easily fits his now legendary status.
Five NBA titles marked by two Finals MVP awards, 17 All-Star appearances, league MVP in 2008, four-time All-Star MVP, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team, two Olympic gold medals, two NBA scoring titles, including an 81-point outburst on January 2006 against the Toronto Raptors.
Today, the 81-point game stands as the second-most number of points scored behind NBA legendary center Wilt Chamberlain.
Not everyone can achieve what Kobe has done in the basketball court. But by emulating his dedication to the sport and his passion for the game, we all can be “Kobe-like” in our own little world today and serve as an inspiration for the next generation.