One of the great things about the late great Kobe Bryant that makes him an absolute legend is that he cared about the fans who watched him play. Kobe understood and often spoke about the ability to inspire people, especially young kids, who spent a lot of money to watch him play. He knew that every time he stepped on a basketball court, there was an opportunity to inspire someone who might be the next Kobe Bryant. Bryant would often meet his younger fans to talk about basketball and teach them about the game, and play them in a little one-on-one game so the kids could see first-hand what he was all about.
In a recent video on Youtube, a fan called Joe Slagter talked about one of his favorite childhood memories when he had the privilege of meeting with Kobe and playing against him after a Lakers practice. That happened in the late ’90s when Kobe was maybe 20 years old and made a name for himself around the league as the up and coming star in the NBA.
Sheer competitiveness is an attribute that people often used to describe Kobe, and Slagter remembers he was like that when they played one-on-one, even though he played against kids. He was trash-talking them, blocking their shots, and scoring at them at will, but he would let them score a basket every now or then.
The legend of his competitiveness is true. I was insanely nervous to meet him, and from the moment I walked on the court, he immediately started trash-talking me. I assumed I would get first possession because I was a 10-year-old, but he took the ball and said, ‘Nah, my ball.’ He took no mercy, draining jumper after jumper. He dribbled over our heads and swatted the shit out of the youngest kid’s shot, all with a smile on his face. He did have one moment of weakness where he let me drive in for a layup, and since then, I’ve always been able to brag that I scored on Kobe. On my next layup attempt, he feigned a block. I panicked and bricked it straight into the bottom of the backboard. ‘All about intimidation baby.
Joe Slagter, via Youtube
These stories are a great example of everything that made Kobe special and a true NBA legend. Even though he was one of the busiest NBA players, he often found the time to interact with fans and showed he cared about performing on a high level for them. He was always looking to inspire others, and that is something he most certainly did throughout his entire legendary career.