To my Hero who is thousands of miles away.

February 2008, Turkey. As an eight-year-old, I knew about basketball. But I didn’t know the details or the statistics. I knew only five tall people were trying to throw an orange ball into the hoop. I was following Fenerbahce in Turkey; neither very good nor very bad, they were an average team. I knew the NBA three years ago, when I was five. The people who dunk, the blocks, the interesting events made me love the NBA. But like I said, I thought it was just fun.

On February 13, 2008, I ran into some numbers related to Kobe Bryant, one of my four favorite players in the NBA. I knew about collecting and extracting, writing and reading. These numbers were meaningless at first. I asked my mother, who played basketball in college, what those numbers meant. She explained to me what rebounds and assists mean. Then I asked her about the FG/FGA part and she explained it as well. Kobe Bryant had played 3/13 against the Nets on February 5 and 4/16 against the Hawks on February 6. I said to myself,” Oh, No, I think I like a lousy player.”

The next game he played was 10/15 against the Heat. Then I began to follow this man carefully. There was 15.000 kilometers between us, an ocean and a continent. But I was fascinated by his love for the game. Think about it, you miss dozens of shots, but you still keep shooting to find a hit.

I was collecting everything I could find about the NBA in Fethiye, one of the small cities of Turkey. I’ve been reading everything from them about Kobe and digging into my mind. I was slowly beginning to learn about the 1996 Draft, 81 and 62, the 2001 Final and many more glorious moments. But I wanted to have something to do with Kobe. I asked my mother to knit purple and yellow hats and gloves. I had 24 on one of my gloves and 8 on the other.

I was an overweight kid, and with these gloves, my friends at school started making fun of me more. When I came home that day, I cried. I was used to people making fun of me because I was overweight, but gloves… No one could make fun of my gloves. That day I identified Kobe Bryant as my hero and my brother, despite the distance of fifteen thousand kilometers.

Over the years I’ve started to learn more about basketball. Of course, my priority was Kobe Bryant. I was looking for all sorts of ways to watch him play every game. As I saw his commitment to the game, I saw his nobility in every ball bounce, his obsession with what he wanted to do on the field, the free throws he used despite his achilles gone…  I was thinking I couldn’t have picked a better hero.

I’m as committed to my mother as I am to Kobe. In fact, she loves Kobe just as much as I do. It was special for us to get up at 4 am every night to watch Lakers games or save money to buy a Kobe product. Kobe has further tightened my bond with my family.

I was 105 kilograms in my sophomore year of high school. I was fat, I loved basketball, and, man, I was terrible in class. My only goal was to play basketball during breaks. Sure, something to eat. I thought about Kobe one day at that time. The memory of the camp in 2008 came to my mind. And I looked at myself and thought, What are you doing? I decided to lose weight that day. I just played basketball and adjusted my diet. I thought of Kobe and his love for basketball in every hard situation.

When I graduated from high school, I’m 57 kg. As I started to lose weight, I started to study more and more in classes. And when I was 17, towards the end of third grade, I set the goal of writing five articles about basketball every week. Sometimes it was hard to do sports, to give time to family, to work, to study and to write, but Mamba Mentality…

When I graduated, I was among the top 1000 people in the university exams, I started writing for Eurosport and I was interviewing countless important basketball players. Every interview I go to, I think, “you’re definitely gonna blow it this time,” but when I watch the two-minute Kobe video on my phone, things get better. I do it before every test and the event that matters to me. Because I need to feel Kobe and basketball. Just like him, I have to think and feel the hardness of each screen set or the seconds when the ball hits the ground and comes back into my hand.

But now. Shit.

When I watch that two-minute video of him, I will definitely cry all the time. I’m 19 now, but I think that’s going to be the case until I’m 59. At the heart of everything I’ve won and achieved in my life (so far) are Kobe Bryant’s philosophy and his love of basketball. My bond with my mother, talking to people, my career, basketball, losing weight and being healthy…

Kobe, even though I never knew you and I never saw any of your matches in the arena, you were always there for me. Thanks for EVERYTHING.

Your biggest fan in thousands of kilometers,

Kuzey.

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