You don’t know me, but I hate you.
I hate you because you made me not get enough sleep last night. Your postgame press conference came on live at 10pm and I had to watch. Had to. You talked about how hard it was to give up a game you started playing at three years old. I started playing at three years old, too. Did you know that? Like you said in your God awful “Dear Basketball” poem, I too shot balls into garbage cans pretending to make game winning shots at the Forum. Did you take wire hangers, shape them into hoops, then wedge them between the closet door and the doorframe so you could shoot rolled up socks from the corner of your bedroom? You probably did. You probably slept with your ball in your arms like I did because you were in love.
I hate you because we’re the same age. Did you know that? I bet when I was pretending to be Magic Johnson or Kevin McHale on my driveway, shooting on a makeshift hoop my dad created, you were doing the same thing, but better. When I wouldn’t go inside for dinner until I made 250 jumpers, I bet you were out there until you made 500. Maybe 1000. When I only stayed in the rain for an hour until I got too cold, you were probably out there the whole night. When people wrote in my middle school yearbook that I’d be the “first Filipino in the NBA,” I believed them, but I bet you didn’t need that kind of validation. You had it in you. You had it yourself.
I hate you because I knew about you in high school, even though you went to school all the way in Philly. And it wasn’t because you took Brandy to prom. It was because of your game. I saw you on ESPN. I saw you on the cover of Slam Magazine. I remember having the best game of my life against Rio Linda, 52 points and a near triple double. I remember seeing my name in the Sac Bee the next day and feeling like something was happening. But I bet you scored 60 that day and got an article in Sports Illustrated. My high school career died quietly when one of the Sophomore Studs (who’d lose in the state championship two years later) didn’t pass it to me as the play called for but took the last second shot himself… and missed. I remember crying in the locker room, knowing it was over. You were just beginning.
I hate you because you went straight to the pros and knew you belonged. I was picked second to last in Nike Camp that year. I got cut when I tried to walk on for the Sac State team. You went under the leg in the dunk contest and strutted like you owned the freaking world, while the only time I ever dunked was sophomore year in high school… with a volleyball. For kicks, I sent a letter to the NBA to declare for the draft, some sad attempt at not losing myself. I never got a response.
I hate you because you made multiple All-Star teams, won multiple championships, won multiple MVP trophies. All my trophies are locked up in some dusty box in my parents’ storage. While you were killing my Sacramento Kings (I hate you), I finally found my game. I played on teams that traveled California, earned All-Star honors in nearly every league and tournament I played in. I remember constantly telling myself to pretend to be you. I carried your swagger. Beat my chest. Played fearlessly. But as the years wore on, playing in sweaty high school gyms in front of 20 people (15 of whom were family) grew pointless. Like you, I’d always identified myself as a baller and that’s how everyone identified me. “You still ballin’?” “Where you play college ball?” “Wanna run with us in such and such tourney?” Everyone knew that basketball was my first love, my life, but they woudn’t let me let it go.
I hate you because you did it on your own. In college, I wrote a paper about why I didn’t make it into the NBA despite having “10,000 hours of practice." I said it was because I was Filipino (thus being too “short” for a basketball player), having grown up in a middle class family (a majority of NBA players are from lower class homes), and some odd kind of reverse racism. I tried to convince myself that I didn't get what I'd always wanted because of other factors. What I didn’t write was that I just didn’t want it as much as you.
I hate you because you tore your achilles and it reminded me when I tore mine. Following my own missed shot, which friends will tell you I rarely did. Go figure. I remember sitting for three weeks in the downstairs room at my parents’ house, watching Storage Wars reruns in the dark, feeling absolutely piteous for myself. I knew that this injury for sure was it. No more basketball or, at least, no more basketball at the level I’d always played at. My identity dribbled out of my pores. And all the while, family and friends asked when I’d be back on the court. They had some league they wanted me to play in. I remember reading your rant after your injury and feeling that’s exactly how I felt. How BS it all was. How you could devote yourself to something for so long and then just have it be done. The struggle for perspective. But you had the best doctors in the world and I didn’t even have health insurance at the time.
I hate you because you stayed too long. You didn’t recover from your injury like I thought you would. You were fallible. You were no longer in the conversation of the best active basketball player in the world. I saw you move more slowly, get less lift on your fadeaway. You dunked on someone’s face in Milwaukee and it made the Top 10 on Sportscenter, but it was the last time you’d do that. Did you know that I tried to come back, too? But just shooting around at the gym for five minutes and my Achilles gets tight and my knee swells up. The other day, my doc said it was time to give up basketball. Give up. I looked at him and thought about you, struggling out there on the court, unable to give up your first love.
I hate you because a couple days ago, you gave up. I’m not saying retiring is the wrong choice, but you’re Kobe. A top five player. The baller I grew up with. In your God awful poem, you said your body just wouldn’t allow you to keep going. If you can’t keep going, then what the hell am I doing trying to get back on the court? I guess it’s time to brush off those golf clubs…
I hate you because of an answer you gave in your press conference. A reporter asked what you would do after you retire and you said something with “storytelling.” It was unclear what you meant by that, but being in Hollywood, wouldn’t be too hard to guess. Writing? Directing? I can’t tell you how pissed off this made me. You had basketball, Kobe, you don’t get to be a writer, too! That’s a big part of the after-basketball identity I found for myself, homie, go find your own!
I hate you because I find myself still competing with you. I hate you because your poem (which was God awful, did I mention?) got more reads than all of my publications combined. I hate you because we live in a world where a professional athlete thinks they can be a “writer” but a writer would never delude themselves into thinking they could be a professional athlete. But most of all, I hate you because I know you and countless other basketball players outworked me and because I fear that here, in the literary arena, you might outwork me again.