I remember when I first became a true Laker fan in 1998. I was still a young child back then and growing up with no father figure, Kobe Bryant was the only adult male I could look up to. My father was a starving artist, who left us to go to New York to pursue his dream of having a career in women's fashion design. My step-father worked on an assembly line in a car factory installing the rear-view mirrors on cheap, mass-produced Mazdas. My step-father would womanize, he would cheat on my mom. He had a bit of an alcohol problem and would often beat me with an ice-cream scooper. Other times he came home drunk, he would accuse the squirrels in the chestnut tree outside our 2nd story apartment window of being socialistic communists.
On my 11th birthday, I received my first basketball. I used to shoot that little lopsided, worn-down Huffy ball for hours on end. I played numerous games of 1 on 1, horse, and around the world with my overweight friend, Diego.
At the age of 12, I saw my first Laker game. I was amazed and awestruck by Kobe Bryant. His flashy and athletic plays amazed me. I wanted to be loved by millions, just like him. I immediately became a fan from that point on. I would lay at night imagining myself being like Kobe Bryant. Then, as I dreamt, my mind would make those imaginings seem more real except I was seeing Kobe Bryant dunking ferociously on his foes.
That same year, I received my very own Kobe jersey. It was a yellow shirt with the sleeves cut off and the name Kobe taped onto the back. I use to wear it every time Diego and I would play. I would pretend to be just like my hero throwing down thunderous dunks and crowd-arousing cross-overs. I was Kobe Bryant. And Diego was Shaq.
I lost interest in the Lakers starting the 2005 season, however. My step-father checked into rehab and I was placed in foster care for 3 months until I was finally re-united with my family. My love for Kobe Bryant and the feelings I felt as a young child were re-awakened by the 81 point game, and I have realized how as I have grown, Kobe Bryant has also had changes. He is no longer that boyish hero with the flashy smile. He has become a callous gun for hire. I still see images of a young Kobe Bryant, whose hair resembled a dirty q-tip, in my head, just before I fall asleep...