A Hate Letter to Kobe Bryant

by Elison Alcovendaz

Dear Kobe,

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.

Sincerely,

Elison Alcovendaz

Why I Hate Orlando Bloom (aka the Death of the Athlete)

by Elison Alcovendaz
This is such BS! All the training and sacrifice just flew out the window with one step that I’ve done millions of times! The frustration is unbearable. The anger is rage. Why the hell did this happen ?!? Makes no damn sense. Now I’m supposed to come back from this and be the same player Or better at 35?!? How in the world am I supposed to do that??
— Kobe Bryant

There was this movie called Troy that came out a while ago with Brad Pitt playing Achilles with streaked blonde hair and the strangest accent you've ever heard where, after a whole war of killing armies with precise abandon, Brad falls to an arrow flung by Orlando Bloom that just so happens to pierce the area above his heel (yes, Orlando Bloom!) I hate Orlando Bloom for this criminal act (never mind that in the actual Greek myth, it's Achilles' mother who is to blame - she dipped Achilles into the River Styx to give him invulnerability but failed to realize she held him by the heel, thus preventing the miraculous water from touching that part of his body). Did I mention that I hate Orlando Bloom? I hate Orlando Bloom.    

When I was five years old, long before I'd read any Greek mythology, I was reading another mythology - the legend of Dr. Julius Erving. My dad had noticed I loved basketball and bought this book for me. I read it twice and copied everything Dr. J did. He slept with his basketball. So did I. He said you needed to walk onto every court and every room like you owned the place. So did I. He said you needed to play - basketball and life - with fearlessness. I certainly tried to.

From that point on, I knew myself as a basketball player. It was my thing. Everyone knew me that way as well. Over the next 26 years, I'd play basketball at least four times a week, sometimes shooting 500 jumpers a day, practicing post moves until the mosquitos outside had bitten every inch of skin. When people know you as something - and you know yourself as that thing, too - you own it. Soon, most of the people I knew were from basketball tourneys across California, others from basketball class and intramurals, dudes from the Filipino and city leagues. 

This is the problem with being singular - when you lose it, you really lose it. Not lose it as in go crazy, but lose yourself. At least for a while. On August 18, 2011, I dribbled to the three point line on a fast break, stopped, jumped, shot, landed, saw the shot was going to be short, so when it clanged off the rim, I took a step forward to grab the rebound and felt a pop on the back of my right leg. Orlando Bloom shot me. I didn't know it at first. I thought someone had kicked a basketball against my heel. After I learned my Achilles had snapped, I spent three months holed up in a dark room watching Storage Wars and watching my lower right leg dwindle to half the size of the left. I knew I would never be the same player, which meant I would never be the same guy.

Almost two years later and I haven't played a game. Some of it is physical, most of it is mental. In the back of my mind I try to reconcile how you can lose such a big part of yourself so quickly.  When I look at my Facebook friends, there are five times more people who know me from writing or the lit program at Sac State than from basketball. It's been a strange but difficult transition. I avoid my cousins' and friends' basketball games because I have a hard time watching. I tell people I don't miss it when sometimes, it's the only thing I think about. 

There are many middle-aged or becoming-middle-aged people losing this part of themselves. My brother suddenly has back issues. My cousin, who's one of the most in-shape people I know, constantly battles ankle, knee, other leg issues. Professional athletes just cannot retire. Even if you're in tip top shape, you cannot be that athlete you were before, yet you still go out there, the weekend warrior, trying to do moves your mind thinks are possible but your body knows isn't. Why? Because it's who we know ourselves to be. We are basketball players, weight lifters, golfers, softball players. If we stop, if we give in, we won't know who we are anymore. 

I know, this all very maudlin. I know, first world problems. But there is a common theme that runs throughout much literature and sports, and that's this: in order to be new, to be reborn, you must shed the old skin, you must "die." When MJ got old, he changed. He worked on his fadeaway jumper. He learned to pass up on the game winning shot. He improved his defense. When Kobe wrote the quote that started this piece, he had just snapped his Achilles and was staring at a future where he would no longer be who he and the world knew that he was. He, too, will learn something about himself and hopefully become better for it. Maybe he will even become a better teammate (yes, it's possible).

As for me, even without basketball, I've never felt happier or more fulfilled. Without the injury, I may have never found writing, books, a deeper part of myself that I never knew existed. Actually, now that I think about it, Legolas was pretty cool. Maybe I don't hate you so much, Orlando Bloom.