Between snapping photos of his adorable daughter Cali Lynn Dream Taylor or working graveyard shifts in the studio for his forthcoming, featureless and Bongo-produced 1992 project, California rapper The Game (nee Jayceon Taylor) has been a courtside regular at Laker games and a fan/ friend of the team’s five-time champ, Kobe Bryant. Twenty-four hours before #MambaDay, the day of Bryant’s final game against the Utah Jazz (April 13) at L.A.’s Staples Center, sports junkie and former basketball player The Game reminisces on the Black Mamba’s legacy as both on-and-off-court MVP, father and human being.
I remember the first time I ever really heard of Kobe. I just remember hearing this amazing basketball player when I was in high school, maybe 9th or 10th grade. I’m just hearing about this kid from Philly who can just do everything. People were saying throughout the ABCD camp and the Nike camp that they’d never seen a basketball player like this — that he was probably going to go straight to the NBA. You know, if you’re a young basketball player, that’s everybody’s dream. You kind of low-key hate that it’s not you getting that type of praise and you want to see him play. You want to play against him. Of course, I was a few years younger than Kobe. At that time, you couldn’t just go on the Internet and YouTube. You had to wait until you actually seen them or watched a game tape. So I finally had seen him play out in Vegas in a tournament and I thought, “Shit, it’s like the second coming of Michael Jordan.” I just remember being a fan from that day. Then I got pissed off at him a couple of years later when he took Brandy to the prom. That’s when Brandy was at her height. I was like, “Damn, why can’t I take Brandy to the prom?” It was just so cool that it was Kobe, man, and that he was getting all of this notoriety and becoming just a huge celebrity outside of basketball.
When the NBA draft came [in 1996] and the Lakers traded Vlade Divac to Charlotte [Hornets] for Kobe Bryant, I remember how overjoyed and happy everyone was watching the draft with me. I couldn’t figure out why on Earth anyone would trade away Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac, but that’s how the drafts go. The first time I ever seen him play was at the Forum and I could just remember thinking how dope he was. He didn’t have an amazing rookie year but you could tell Kobe was going to be who everyone knew he was going to be. He made some rookie mistakes in that game and all that but still the Forum was packed and everybody was excited. It was just a good time. I just appreciated him being in the city and I knew that it was a legacy in the making.
It’s sort of like a bowling ball effect. If you can imagine how you roll it down the lane and it annihilates the pins, it’s sort of the same thing when Kobe is on the basketball court. Sometimes, it just seems like he doesn’t need anyone else. He’s got it all figured out from the time the ball’s in bounds until the shot is taken. You only see that in players, I wanna say, every almost 10 years or something like that. When I say that caliber of player, I’m talking about the Magic Johnsons, Isaiah Thomases, all the way up to the Charles Barkleys, Shaquille O’Neals, Anfernee [Penny] Hardaways, Jason Kidds, the list goes on. But Kobe is still different. I’ll always make the Michael Jordan comparison because of the [shooting guard] position, the fadeaway, him just being a force to be reckoned with and just being unstoppable.
Over the years, there’s a thing that people do. I hate that some people forget about what Kobe was in the early stages of his career all the way through to the championship until he started to have the injury problems. Like people say, “Ohh, Kobe is getting old. He can’t do what he used to do.” Well, no one can do what they used to do once they are of age and they’ve done something for a long amount of time. Even Michael Jordan, as he faded out of the league and played for the Wizards, you just didn’t see what he was throwing for the Bulls. It just wasn’t like that. Even the other day, I was watching the game and Kobe is still scoring 30 points. It’s like, “Does he really need to retire?” Then I get to thinking about it being 20 years [in his career] and it might be the right time for him. He knows his body and his game. Even though he can still play, he probably has things he wants to do outside of the NBA. His daughters are getting older so I understand why he is bidding us a farewell. But again, when you’re talking about Kobe, it seems like everything in this man’s life and career made sense. From his name being so short and being really easy to pronounce — it’s just “Kobe Bryant.” It just rolls off your tongue. It almost seems like it’s not even a name, I don’t know, it’s just a power.
My favorite championship moment is all [five of them] because I’m always in some type of situation, whether it be my house since I came into my own celebrity or before when I’d be at a random bar or at a friend’s house. There’s always some naysayers, always somebody hating on the Lakers and saying what Kobe wouldn’t be able to do without Shaq. Then Shaq leaves and here comes Pau Gasol and Kobe does it a few more times. Then it’s like, “Oh, Kobe always has to have a big man.” It’s like you get to a point where you have to start saying that Jordan couldn’t do it by himself, he wouldn’t do without [Scottie] Pippen, and [Toni] Kuko?, and Steve Kerr and so forth. My favorite Laker championship moment would probably be all of them, you know, being able to brag about our city, a city that I’m proud of, a city that I was born and raised in, bringing home another NBA championship when there are 30-plus teams and they are fighting 82 games a year to have that bragging right. For the Lakers to do it five times with Kobe on the court is just that much more catastrophic.
What I like about Kobe [as a man] is that he made it through his hurdles and obstacles. Even through being Kobe Bryant the great, he was human, he was just like us. He was flawed. He made mistakes and then he overcame those mistakes which was an inspiration to not only myself but to others that looked up to him, especially people from the city and kids not only from Los Angeles, but California. No one is perfect and everyone in their career has those moments. Some people are able to turn it around and make positives out of it and keep it going and keep their legacy going and other people fall off, and Kobe is just not one of those people. It was the whole cheating thing [that made me see he was human]. Every young black entertainer, basketball player or celebrity’s struggle in a relationship. That was one that was more relative to me, being that people don’t understand the allure of these women out here and how thirsty they are. And not just women but how thirsty we can get being tempted from being around all these beautiful women here and there, night after night, game after game, show after show. That’s not even something that I have been able to conquer to date. But you know, [we’re] all a work in progress. Again, Kobe made it through. I’m pretty sure he had a hell of a lot of making up to do and he did that because Vanessa is still by his side, his family is intact. It’s a beautiful thing.
Kobe Bryant the father. We’re kind of one and the same. For me, a lot of people try to say, “Well, you’re a father — why do this and why do you do that?” Well, I’m a father over here and what I do with my personal life or decisions for The Game or Jayceon [Taylor] will never trump me being there for my children every step of the way, just being a powerful force for them and everything that they do as far as support, love and care. Kobe has all, if not more, of those traits than I do. You’ve seen it. And if everyone is proud of being a father and proud of their children and you see them constantly in your life, you just have to take heed and pat him on the back and tell him good job. Because again, not a lot of African males are there for their children, and not to knock on my own race, but it’s true. I see it every day. Myself, my charity, my heart and things that I do cater to the needs of those children who are in lack of male role models in large. It just goes back to me being able to say how much I love my kids and how much you can see that in Kobe and other fathers that are displaying that they are amazing fathers and how much they love their kids on whether it be on social media or just in real life. Kobe is great at that.
My final words to Kobe and you know I’ll be there in attendance, but my final words would be a simple, “thank you.” Not only for myself as a friend, as a brother. For almost 15 of the 20 years that I’ve known Kobe, he’s always been 100 with me and my children and always going out of his way to make sure they have a signed shoe. From that, trickling on down to just kids, the shoes, being able to be somebody that is a role model for people all around the world to look up to. We’re talking about a man in a league where the competition has become more fierce every year, and the players get younger and faster and stronger, and still being able to be as great as he is. Again, in short, I’d just like to say, “Thank you.”
–As told to Adelle Platon