It’s May 12, 1997 your time.
This letter is from the future. 2016 to be exact.
As an 18-year-old rookie, you probably don’t want to hear how this is all going to end. But what kind of weirdo from the future would I be if I didn’t drop any spoilers about what you’re about to experience?
We’ll get to that. Right now let’s talk about those four airballs down the stretch you just threw up in the Playoffs.
Four. Not just misses too. Airballs.
Sorry. 2016. We’ve started to talk in acronyms. Never mind. You’ll never do it anyway.
In fact you’ll never really get with the times. The league, the players, the game, they’ll all evolve, adapt, dab and dap. A whole new generation of fancy-handshaking, Snapchat-posting, fashion-modeling, squad-goal fraternity brothers will enter the Association.
They’ll all be friends with each other. All except you.
See kid, that feeling you have right now? That burning rage, that anger, that hate you have combusting in your chest? It’ll drive many away. Those around you will say it will quiet down. It won’t.
No, not for you.
You will remember this moment. You will forever feel this pain. Not for a second will it diminish, not for a moment will it pass.
But you will not cower, you will not run. You will understand that there is nowhere that you can go to hide from it. So you won’t. You’ll embrace it. You’ll harness it. Hell, you’ll even enjoy it.
The looks they gave you after airball one, the whispers you heard after number two, the sharp, piercing stares after the third, and the ridicule, the laughter, the heckling after airball four: all those are just the beginning, the first taste. Not of a poison that will weaken you, but of the fuel that keep you going.
Today you are a villain for missing shots.
Time and again, you’ll be a hero for making them.
You will understand that while the two are polar opposites, they both reside in the perception of you by others. It’s something you won’t care much for. It’s something everyone else will obsess over.
What will matter to you will not be the makes or misses, but rather the courage to take the shots. Heroes and villains, they’re the same. They fight. They battle. They make sure that fate rests on their shoulders alone.
Speaking of body parts, you’ll hurt almost every single bone and muscle you’ve got. You’ll be an old man by the time you’re through bro, hounded by injury after injury.
Hounded, plagued, punished by them. But never defeated.
You’ll come back. You’ll snap a finger back in place during a timeout, you’ll re-tape a broken ankle and play 48 minutes. You’ll make two free throws after an injury so bad it killed Brad Pitt in Troy (one day you’ll get this reference).
Rings. I know you want to ask about rings. You’ll get yours. A lot of them. Yes, you’ll be a winner.
You’ll lose also. 2008 will be, well let’s just say, once that year rolls along, tell yourself this: 2010 is only two years away (and yes, pass it to the crazy dude open for three. He’ll come through).
You will be feared and hated by those you face. Even some who stand beside and behind you in purple and gold will fail to comprehend your nature. Even your kids – you’ll have two beautiful girls whom you’ll say “thankfully look more like their mother” – will feel your Playoff coldness.
You will however, be loved, by a city, a generation, a planet of young boys and girls and their fathers and their grandmothers. Across seas, jumpshots will end no longer with a gooseneck followthrough but with the utterance of your name. Kids will buy your sneakers and wear 24 on their backs (long story, but you’ll drop the 8 in a decade or so because well, I don’t know dude. No one ever knows why you do the things you do).
For every reason you are hated, you will be loved.
Your near-psychotic focus will be emulated by basketball players and students and professionals and leaders. Your mad desire to win will be imbibed by sons and daughters from their fathers who raised them with nighttime stories of your work ethic. Your insane ability to block out the negative and lock in on the task at hand will be the model upon which competitors, in any field, will approach their craft.
And your refusal to give in to pain, to succumb to distraction, your strength, kid, your toughness, your unshakeable belief in yourself, it’ll one day inspire a young boy three continents away, who in multiple times in his life will face adversity and loss and failure, to whisper under his breath “Would Kobe give up?”
You won’t. And because of that, neither will he.
One day versus Toronto, you’ll light ‘em up. By a lot. A LOT. (Just trust me. Keep shooting. Jalen and Mo-Pete ain’t got shit on you.)
You’ll take All-Star games too seriously, except the last one. (Again, WTF?)
Someone will try to throw a ball to your face and you won’t even flinch (BEST MOMENT EVER).
You’ll get a standing ovation in Boston, opposing players will want your signed game shoes and in the end of this all, you’ll actually start to show that you’re a warm, fuzzy, nice guy after all (although very few will actually buy it).
In 2016, it all ends. And the last stop is against Utah.
Same team that just beat you by 48, my time.
Same team you shot four airballs against just earlier tonight, your time.
One last time, let’s let that snake out.
Do it for the 18-year old #8.
Do it for the old man #24.
Do it for us, the ageless, timeless kids of the future who will always live in the past, during those years Kobe Bryant played basketball the way we wanted to live life.
Go put some shots up, kid.
It’s about to get really interesting for you.
It’ll be fun.
It’s been fun.
One day you’ll run into a kid in the Philippines. You’ll be throwing basketballs to a crowd and he’ll be there standing trying to take photos with a camera he doesn’t know how to use but borrowed anyway to get accreditation. He’ll freeze. You’ll say “Nice shirt.” He’ll answer “Kobe.”
Don’t get weirded out. He’ll write you a letter a few years after that to explain everything.
Photos by Getty Images