Photo courtesy of Kobe Bryant's Facebook page

On Sunday, my homie Eugene and I rolled a joint and then sat on the living room couch. But, all of a sudden, we couldn’t find the energy to spark it. So we took a cruise down memory lane instead, recalling our favorite memories of Kobe “Bean” Bryant.”

This man really took BRANDY NORWOOD, a.k.a. Moesha, to his senior prom. He was a star in high school, before he ever stepped foot on an NBA floor.

Then, straight out of high school, Bryant became the number 13 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and soon became the youngest player to start in an NBA All-Star game by the time he was 19 years old. 

He played in the league for 20 years, winning five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, an MVP award and two NBA Finals MVP awards. Whole time, he never switched teams. Even the biggest Chicago Bulls fan can admit that watching Michael Jordan play for the Washington Wizards after returning from his second retirement in 2001 was slightly huff, considering he won six championships for Chicago. Lakers fans never had to go through that. 

Bryant made 18 All-Star teams, nine all-defensive teams, earned two scoring titles and a 1997 dunk contest championship. 

And that was just his basketball career. 

Bryant was just starting to settle into retirement life. He left the game in 2016, and began racking up new hardware. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his short animated film, “Dear Basketball.” And in September 2019, he planned to evolve and teach a new generation of athletes with his Mamba Academy, where he also coached his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the Lady Mamba Mavericks. It was obvious that little Gianna had that “Mamba Mentality” in her, too.

I don’t know a world without Bryant. He’s been a part of my life since I was 7 years old. That’s why it was damn-near impossible to think of an adjective to describe the pain I felt on Sunday when I saw the news on Twitter: Kobe Bryant, one of my favorite athletes of all time, regardless of sport, along with Gianna and seven other passengers, didn’t survive a helicopter accident in Calabasas, Calif. 

The GOATs are immortal in our eyes, especially the ones we personally watched grind their way from “having next” to overcoming every obstacle in their path to proclaim “I got now. I don’t care who got next.” Our big homies, the generation before us, had MJ. We had Bean. 


We’re supposed to watch athletes like Bryant pour themselves into their post-basketball career in the same way that we’ve watched Ervin Magic Johnson blossom as an entrepreneur after he retired from the game in 1996. 

We were supposed to marvel at Bryant as he grew old as we do with NBA forefathers Bill Russell, 85, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, 72. 

We were just beginning to see how passionate Bryant was about fatherhood and mentorship. He was embracing his role as the go-to elder statesman for the next generation of NBA stars, who leaned on him for advice and insight. 

We hear so many athletes talk about the hurdles they face when transitioning into retirement. Bryant was making it look easy. So, when life shows us that there’s no such thing as immortality, not even when it comes to our GOATs, it hits harder than a Mike Tyson uppercut.

See, Bryant’s influence extended well beyond Los Angeles. His hunger to be great resonated with me here, on the South Side of Chicago, where me and my guys would play 21 at the Tuley Park courts until the street lights came on. As I sit here, trying to put my feelings for Bryant into words, I know that I have to start at the beginning in order to truly summarize what Bryant meant kids like me in Chicago. That history starts with Jordan, or “Big Mike” as we call him. 

Allow me to explain.

As shorties growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, we took the phrase, “I wanna be like Mike,” to heart. All I can do is laugh as we sit back and reminisce about the countless hours we spent mimicking everything we saw “Big Mike” do. It didn’t matter if we were on a court, a porch, or in our bedrooms using dirty clothes hampers as a hoop, we were steady trying to be like Mike. 

The quality that made MJ into the best and fiercest competitor of the 90s was his devotion and passion for the game of basketball. His unyielding will to win is what made him the GOAT of the 90s. Mike not only wanted to beat his opponent. He wanted to destroy them mentally so that it was forever understood that there are levels to this shit. It’s that ruthless ambition that separates the greats from the greatest.

Chicagoans knew there would never be another Michael Jordan. There was no convincing us otherwise. I mean, who else could possibly come along and impact the game on a global scale the way MJ did? So we instantly became protectors of Jordan’s GOAT legacy, and made it clear that no false GOATs shall be mentioned in the same sentence.

Then came Kobe Bryant.  

A 6’6 guard from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Bryant walked like MJ with the kind of confidence that would put fear into an opponent’s eyes before they stepped foot on the hardwood. He talked like MJ, daring to speak greatness on his career before most could see it. The 17-year-old rookie had wore hair cut real low, too, which made him look even more like MJ. 

And right when we laughed off his aspirations to — somehow, some way — ascend to the GOAT’s level, Bryant showed us exactly where he resembled MJ the most: on the court. 

His fade away was a spitting image of Jordan’s and he put it on display in his first NBA matchup against the GOAT in December 1996. Though the Lakers lost, Bryant scored 33 on MJ. He made his point. He wasn’t backing down from taking the crown.

In a January 2003 game against the Seattle Supersonics, Bryant shrugged with a smirk — another MJ move — after dropping 12 shots from three-point range. In November 2004, he stuck out his tongue, in MJ fashion, right before posterizing Dwight Howard. Bryant also soared like MJ when he dunked. He possessed what Chicagoans couldn’t deny: MJ’s killer instinct.

While other players tried to distance themselves from Jordan’s level of greatness, possibly out of fear that they may never live up to it, Bryant immediately embraced the bar set by the GOAT. Bryant and Jordan shared the same DNA, it seemed. They entered every game with a laser focus on shutting down the opposing team’s best player, and they’d do so for all four quarters. If their opponent had the audacity to think he could slow either of them down offensively, they’d drop 50 points on him for the fun of it. 

Bryant’s approach to the game of basketball, and MJ’s throne, was truly gangster.  

It was so Chicago.

For me, Bryant’s legacy on the court will forever be the way he put his own spin on MJ’s style. Which is why, when Chicagoans debate the greatest basketball players of all time, many of our lists will be:

1. Michael Jordan

1a. Kobe Bryant.

Terrence Tomlin is one-half of The Bigs, the underground kings of Chicago sports, also co-founded by Eugene McIntosh.