How It All Started
Spearheaded by a recent interview (and an amazing highlight clip) captivating my brain over a long weekend (where I was subjected to cold meds, Kleenex tissues and hot tea), I felt like sharing a story about my one-time fixation with the man featured in the picture above. No, I won't begin to bore you with overzealous stats and accolades by one of the greatest players of our generation (okay, maybe I will), nor will I share my opinion on where I feel Mr. Bryant ranks on the G.OA.T. list. Quite frankly, if he doesn't care about where he's placed on an opinion-based list (where there is really no true way of finding out who the best are), why should I? But what I will share, is how I unequivocally convinced myself I'd become the second-coming of one Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant, as we gear up for what could be his induction into the basketball Hall of Fame this summer.
Let's be perfectly clear: I wasn't all the way sold on this guy. In fact, at the onset of Kobe's NBA career (and somewhere along the middle), I couldn't stand him. I'll admit, there was a bit of jealously sprinkled in there. I mean, here was a kid, only a couple of years older than me, about to take the league by storm, insisting on playing for the LOS ANGELES LAKERS (as legend would have it, his party demanded an immediate trade from the Charlotte Hornets - the team who would draft him with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft - for the glitz and glamour of L.A.). The nerves of this guy!
Personally, I didn't think the Lakers needed Kobe or Shaquille O'Neal (a free agent at the time who also had his sights set on Hollywood). I'd grown fond of a young Lakers' team - dubbed 'The Lake Show' - led by the resurgence of the 1991 Slam Dunk champ Cedric Ceballos, the nifty Nick Van Exel, Vlade Divac and the ultra-talented Eddie Jones, who were all slowly making a name for themselves.
Why would they trade for some high school kid who could potentially steal minutes away from fan favorite, Eddie Jones, or worse, potentially hinder Kobe's growth?
Moreover, I didn't appreciate Bryant's blatant attempt at trying to become the next Michael Jordan (which he would vehemently deny); from his bald head (okay, so the bald head was quite stylish for black men during the early to mid 90s, but so what!), his on-court playing style (sprinkled in with a little streetball), the placement of his knee sleeve (even adding a slight fold to it like MJ), his mannerisms, down to sticking out his tongue when dunking the basketball... ala the one, the ONLY, the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan!
Bryant had seemingly entered the league with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, oozing a rare cockiness unseen from an unproven player. Who TF does this guy think he is? But my opinion of Kobe shifted following his '96-'97 rookie campaign, which ended with the Lower Merion H.S. product shooting multiple air balls down the stretch in a crucial playoff road game against the Utah Jazz; putting an end to the Lakers season. His critics grew overnight, unwilling to cut slack to a kid who carried the swagger of a 10-year vet, yet played like an 18 year-old when it mattered most. I genuinely felt bad for him, but the criticism had a reverse effect. During the summer of '97, he'd go through a transformation of sorts; growing out his hair (sporting a mini afro which I quickly gravitated towards), and despite being mocked, ridiculed and singled out as the player responsible for their loss to the Jazz in the prior season, he entered his 2nd season with a newfound confidence. Soon, he'd become the Lakers 6th man (first player typically called off of the bench), making an immediate impact. Fans at the old Great Western Forum- young and old, rose to their feet in unison upon Bryant's entrance into the game, as legendary Lakers P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter announced his name with his familiar monotone voice. Excitement grew, with scores of fans anticipating Bryant's flashy play, making the Lakers must-see-TV. It was an amazing spectacle for the 16 year-old me, watching the NBA on NBC telecast over the weekend, pondering the thought of whether I'd make it to the pros someday.
As Bryant's playing time grew, so did the bevy of supporters. Before long, the Lakers had a future star on their hands. I quickly took heed, growing my hair out to resemble Kobe's, recording every interview conducted; from in-game to late-night talk shows, EVEN purchasing a pair of ADIDAS sneakers (his sneaker sponsor at the time) for the first time in my life. As a lifelong Nike fan, that was HUGE! All for the allure of mirroring a dude I thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread (I'd pull this stunt twice before with a couple of NBA childhood heroes - Penny Hardaway and Scottie Pippen, but I was closer in age to Kobe, and found some other silly detail about him to justify my claim that I was his long lost bro).
Surprisingly, I didn't want to 'be like Mike' or play like Kobe. Orlando's version of Penny Hardaway, the Bulls Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson were the players I opted for anytime I stepped foot onto the court. However, 'rookie Kobe' was a clear underdog. I've always rooted for those types. Little did we know this "underdog" would go on to have an illustrious 20 year career which saw 5 NBA titles, a league MVP award, a couple of scoring titles and a crap load of All-Star appearances/All-Star MVP's. But the icing on the cake would have to be his candidacy into the Basketball Hall of Fame. We'll soon find out if he gets in (I would bet the house that he does), but here's to an amazing talent and an even amazing career, as I take a trip down memory lane.
An Unofficial National Holiday
Finally, baseball is here! The Boys of Summer are back in town and I am happier than the Kool-Aid man. Spring is in the air, the birds are chirping and I've joined THREE fantasy baseball leagues. Overkill? YES! However, I am prepared for the storm, with hopes that I can become victorious in at least 2 out of 3 leagues (not far fetched by any stretch of the imagination). Anyway, the weather feels as if it wants to break at any moment (though the threat of an April snow storm still looms- not inconceivable here on the east coast), but temperature wise, the next couple of months ahead are usually the best (aside from early Autumn). Here's to 6+ months of a sport I can't seem to get enough of 🥂
Wish me luck!
The month of February turned out to be a complete disaster, capped off with the announcement that Bryce Harper has finally come to terms with a team, signing a 13-year deal worth 330 MILLION with the... dreaded Philadelphia Phillies. Great news for Phillies fans and those who enjoy sitting in the bleachers; Harper will probably hit about 100 homeruns in that pint sized ball park. Bad news for the rest of the NL East. The Phillies (on paper) are easily one of the best teams in the division.
I was hoping Harper played on the west coast where he could escape the harsh Philly media - once encountering his first 0 for 20 slump, but I take Harper doesn't mind a little criticism having spent the first part of his career in D.C.
Where do we go from here?
Thankfully, for me, I get the luxury to watch Mr. Harper up close and personal; might even go to a few Phillies games this season, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with his decision. He had 330 million reasons to play in the city of Brotherly Love... but I'm sure he'll say "it wasn't about the money," because after all, that's what they ALL say. I expect him to bounce back in a major way this season and with that said, I have some decisions to make in fantasy baseball with my first pick.
Congrats On This Year's HOF Class!
Did I mentioned a visit to Cooperstown was on my bucket list? What's that? I alluded to this in Chapter 6 of my book? Really?!
Anywho, baseball's Hall of Fame will welcome in its Class of 2019 as it was announced Edgar Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay will join Harold Baines and former relief pitcher Lee Smith this summer. Thankfully, I had the chance to watch each of these players regularly, and though I have my uncertainties on a couple of names, I was thrilled to see Edgar Martinez finally make it to Cooperstown.
It is very rare for a Designated Hitter (an American League player who typically doesn't play the field due to their defensive inabilities) to receive much (if any) love. Many baseball purists deem them as "one dimensional," finding very little value in their play to receive such a nod to join the other greats of America's Pastime. Though the narrative of a DH is true to some degree, voters shouldn't dismiss the efforts of a guy like Martinez who was as good a hitter as anyone during his day.
Growing up a fan of power hitters, it was common to see them consume the DH role; usually batting around .250, knocking out 35-40 homeruns, driving in 100+ runs. But then, you'd come across guys like Paul Molitor (who DH'ed later in his career) and Martinez (who originally came up as a third baseman), players unknown for their power, but had an apt for hitting the baseball. Martinez, who really didn't turn the corner as a player until his 30s, played 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners and became of the game's craftiest hitters. And here's a stat that I found to be incredible: he'd only struck out over 100x's ONCE during his career! Martinez, a 7-time all-star, finished his career with a remarkable .312 average, reaching the 300 homerun plateau, and get this... he's a native New Yorker! (I seriously had no idea - shame on me).
I enjoyed watching him bat in a lineup filled with studs like Ken Griffey Jr, Jay Buhner and eventually, Alex Rodriguez. Those Mariner teams were fun to watch (when the Mets weren't busy pissing me off). Unfortunately, for Martinez and the rest of his teammates, their World Series runs were usually cut short by Mariano Rivera and the almighty Yankees. Rivera was perhaps the best closer of his era (some would argue the best of all time), and one of the classiest dudes around. Well deserved, men, well deserved. Congrats on this year's class!
Baseball Will Soon Be Here!
Plenty of topics to discuss, but as my eyes, ears and brain scoured the news, one particular story stood out: Spring Training is 70 days away! (good news for those of us who absolutely despise the cold... like me).
December is the month for MLB's GM meetings and free agents signings, as baseball gears up for the 2019 season. 'Hot stove' reports have run rampant for the past week, as fans await the next astronomical contract signing. Plenty of low-key names have moved onto other teams and a few trades have been executed, but the the baseball world awaits the signings of this off-season's biggest names: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado; both are expected to add several more zeroes to their bank accounts.
From the sound of things, the Philadelphia Phillies are the favorites to land Harper or Machado (the Chicago White Sox have reportedly thrown their name into the mix as well - anyone but the Yankees - please!). I don't expect either player to sign with these team (I suspect some out-of-the-blue club will quietly enter the Harper/Machado sweepstakes or the almighty Yankees will magically sign them BOTH at the eleventh hour!), but as the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase once told us - 'everyone has a price!' Two things are for certain; both players will be saying hello to nice contracts and higher expectations.
In the perfect world, I'd like any team in pursuit of the two stars to play some serious 'hard ball' (pardon the pun). Don't simply wine and dine them or hand over a blank check for the sake of headlines and ego coddling (we've got to get out of the business of sucking up to athletes who put on their pants the same way many of us do. They're still human beings). Make them sweat. Let them know that under no circumstance will a 3, 4, 500 million dollar deal be placed on the table! I don't care if the owner is a ba-zillionaire making money hand over fist. Set the precedence. No ONE player is bigger than the game, and there isn't a player on the free agent market worth that amount of money (maybe 1 or 2 players in sports are).
Admittedly, I am a big Bryce Harper fan. He's an exceptional player, though to some, hasn't fully lived up to the hype. Despite putting up a respectable stat line through his 7 years with the Washington Nationals, where he was awarded NL MVP in 2015, his tenure in D.C. wasn't very memorable if you'd ask a select group of fans and media types. Harper battled everything from injuries, to constantly answering questions about his lack of hustle and leadership. In the end, he'd eventually lose out as an all-around favorite to baseball's darling - the widely popular and talented - Mike Trout of the Anaheim Angels.
I understand the market has drastically changed since the days of childhood heroes Ken Griffrey Jr, Jose Canseco, and Tony Gwynn (players who never sniffed contracts in the 100 million dollar range), but any team looking to attach the number 300 million to Harper's name (based on these concerns) should be under the watchful eye of commissioner Rob Manfred. Either that, or baseball should seriously consider implementing a salary cap. However, if last off-season was any indication of the future of baseball's free agency process, I expect those outrageous salaries of yesteryear to have seen better days.
P.S.: Any player b*tchin' and moaning over a 150 million dollar contract offer instead of 300 million, send him to me. I'll show them what 'hard times' are like.
As for Machado, he revealed an ugly side to the baseball world during the 2018 NLCS, intentionally kicking the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar (as he crossed the bag). This, coming a year after being involved in another incident where Machado attempted a "dirty slide" injuring Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Baseball prides itself on being the sport of good 'ol boys and class acts. The last thing baseball purists want is for "America's Pastime" to intermix with the perceived thuggery of athletes from other sports (although historically, thuggery has long existed on the diamond - hello Ty Cobb and a sh*tload of others). Antics aside, I can honestly say I've never been a fan of Machado's vibe.
He's certainly one of the better players of today and you'd be a fool to hold him in contempt for two questionable acts in an overall impressive 7-year career. But one has to wonder about his character. This absolutely matters; off the field and ON. Machado is loaded with talent and extremely confident. No argument here. But I find he teeters on the side of cocky; someone who probably believes in his own hype. Those are my instant vibes anytime I watch him on the field. If I'm a team looking to invest in his type of player long-term, based on the aforementioned, I'd err on the side of caution.
Both players have paid their dues and should be rewarded for their past performance. Besides, I'm sure there isn't a better feeling than having a handful of teams covet and shower you with hopes, promises, perks, and unimaginable salary offers. Personally, I'd love to see clubs like the San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, or Arizona D'Backs enter the bidding war. I understand it's a pipe dream and probably wouldn't make much baseball/financial sense, but can you imagine adding a west coast guy like Harper (born in Las Vegas) to a town like San Diego? The move would do wonders; giving their fan base some hope. That franchise has been irrelevant far too long - they deserve SOME type of love (I'm not a Padres fan, but when is enough, enough?!).
I've got your back, San Diego! Hopefully, you're able to make a splash. Things are sure to heat up in the coming days; I'll be watching intently.
FYI: I won't lie to you, my fantasy baseball senses are tingling *rubbing hands*
The Latest on Kareem Hunt
When will these guys EVER learn?
The NFL is faced with yet another bout of violence - off the field, as former Kansas City Chiefs running back, Kareem Hunt, was released last week stemming from an altercation back in February. Yes, the calendar currently reads December, and yes, the incident was 10 months ago, but it appears the team took the side of their star halfback, going as far as to allow Hunt to participate in the 2018 season without a substantial fine or suspension. That is, until good 'ol TMZ released footage of the skirmish between Hunt and a female, shocking football fans and angering anyone who drafted Hunt in their fantasy football leagues... ahem! ME! (can anyone tell me why TMZ has become the "big brother" of the entertainment world?).
The cringe video shows an unidentified female standing in a hotel hallway before she struck Hunt in the face. Hunt proceeded to forcefully pushed her to the floor and to add insult to injury, he kicked her while down before all hell broke loose. Despite Hunt's eye-popping stat line contributing to a banner 2018 season thus far for the Chiefs, the team swiftly handed him his walking papers once the video was released, leaving their playoff run in jeopardy (not to mention, my fantasy football season which I can kiss goodbye).
In all seriousness, we have another case of an athlete not being cognizant of his celebrity. Another athlete who enjoys hanging out during late hours. Another athlete not paying attention to the traps indirectly (sometimes directly) placed in front of them. Another athlete who hasn't figured out that no matter who's at fault, never can you physically harm a female and think it'll go unnoticed; not in our current world. Not ever. Finally, another athlete who will likely get a second chance.
Hunt released a statement underlining how his mother 'raised him better than that.' I believe him. Can women antagonize, perpetuate an argument and become the aggressor? You'd better believe it. You'd be a fool to think otherwise. Here's another disclaimer: human beings are wired to react when emotions are running high. Let's stop acting as if everyone can simply take the "high road" after their face gets planted with a front hand. At the same token, Hunt, a mere 23 years-old, HAS to use better judgment. We can attribute this incident as a lack of maturity; perhaps Hunt is inexperienced when it comes to late-night encounters with women at hotels. But the NFL offers hands-on training to their incoming rookie class for situations such as this, typically within weeks after they've been drafted. Hunt is currently in his second season. Maybe he fell asleep during orientation and missed vital information.
I'll chalk it up to another athlete believing in their celebrity; presuming the incident would be swept under the rug - because that's usually what happens when you're famous. But in the end, some team will pick up where the Chiefs left off; he's too talented. Soon, he'll be offered another contract, returning to the RB1 slot on the depth chart. Remember, this is the NFL we're talking about, where second chances are handed out like Halloween candy (except if your name is Ray Rice). But one can only hope Hunt has learned a valuable lesson and this was an isolated event.
If I'm Kareem Hunt, I'm looking for personal growth as a man and I'll use this "off time" wisely. Remember, life is much bigger than football. Second, I'd pray for a second chance and do my damnest to be on best behavior. Not only to appease my new employer, but to prove that mama Hunt did in fact 'raise him better.' Third, I'd keep a close eye on the company I keep around, adding an alert to my cell as a reminder to always keep both feet on the ground (in particular, the wee hours of the morning in a hotel hallway). Lastly, the only time my hands would have any movement on camera is when I'm receiving a screen pass from my new QB, or when stiff arming a defender. Better yet, when I'm promptly sticking up both middle fingers to "Big Brother" as I calmly walk through a hotel hallway - incident free. Give TMZ something to talk about then!
From here on out, all eyes will be on Hunt, as plenty will be salivating at the mouth at the sight of another error in judgment. Pay attention, it comes at no cost.