By Hocine LOUKKAF on 1/28/2020

1992, being 12 and living in Le Havre, a port city 200km from Paris, my access to the NBA basketball was limited. As my parents couldn’t afford Canal +, the cable channel that broadcasted the games (one per week), me and my brother spared what we could to buy one or two magazines monthly.

During that summer 1992, the Dream Team definitely put the NBA on another level. I remember bothering everybody in my father’s hometown, back in Algeria, North Africa, not only to watch the USA, but also Croatia and Drazen Petrovic, the first successful European player in the NBA. Unfortunately, one year later, Petrovic was gone in a car crash…

Until 1996, without a VCR at home, I can count on my two hands the full NBA games I watched, often at a friend’s place. That happened to change in 1996. One year after the draft of Kevin Garnett, the 1996 NBA Draft was going to revolutionize the league with a new breed of stars, AI, Kobe of course but also Marbury, Ray Allen or Nash. That would also change for the Europeans as for the first time, a draft would feature several of them (Stojakovic and Ilgauskas) who had never played college ball in the first round (Sabonis and Divac were the only first rounders of that kind at the moment, but in different drafts).

Above all, the NBA perspective changed for me. Willing to receive the channels of their home country, my parents spent $150 to buy a satellite dish which will not require a monthly subscription. Little did they know that my brother and I would use it more than them. Thanks to the motor added to the dish, we had access to different European channels, including the German DSF (which goes for Deutsches Sport Fernsehen or German Sport Channel). Thanks to this channel we could watch several games a week, live or replay, and were now far better served than our friends.

Thus, that 1996-97 season was the first I could really follow from Iverson first games to the All Star Game and the Bulls fourth title after MJ’s comeback. My nights kept being disturbed by those late night ball games, even during my high school final exams which took place at the same time as Bulls’s last Finals against the Jazz.
I have to confess I was not especially a Kobe fan for several reasons, the first being that he forced his way to the Lakers with no respect for the other franchises. Moreover, he was not a ghetto boy, contrary to Iverson, who had been confronted to a hard life, but wanted to act like a tough guy, sometimes showing off too much for me. I had more respect for the Lakers starting SG, Eddie Jones, another Philly guy like Kobe but who was more of a silent assassin and a fierce defensive player.

At that time, the NBA was still a dream for French players, but at the end of that season, Tariq Abdul Wahad, albeit after four years of college ball, became not only the first Frenchman drafted in the first round, but the first to actually put his feet on an NBA court.

In the following years, having switched from soccer to basketball in my late teens, I often played on that lonely basketball hoop, at the edge of my project, bordering with the local forrest. As I worked on my skills, I tried to learn from the best and, gradually, Kobe became of them. I tried to emulate his footwork going to the left to shoot, like I copied Nash’s acrobatic finishes, with whom I shared a lack of athleticism and size that would make me envy Kobe or T-Mac.

Kobe had the successful career we all know, starting from a young wild rookie with a gigantic ego to evolve as the Black mamba, an evolution that was as much in his game as in his style, from the moment he shaved his afro to the extra pounds of muscles he gained around 2002, turning into some kind of basketball superhero with an unbeatable work ethic. Like Jordan, his idol, he wanted to be a killer on both ends of the floor, which he achieved with nine Defensive first team selections.  He became, above all, more than Jordan, one of the first digital icons thanks to the internet, Youtube and all the social networks that appeared then. During that same period, reaching the NBA was not a dream anymore, but a goal for plenty of French kids who watched how Tony Parker, the first Frenchman who played in the NBA straight out of the French league, succeeded with the Spurs.

I will not try to rank Kobe among a list of SG that would include, behind MJ of course, players from different eras like West or Roberson but putting him at least in the top 20 (and probably in the top 10) of the best players of All Time seems reasonable.

When I have the opportunity to help potential pro players improve their game in workouts, I often use Kobe as the model to follow. “Watch your footwork if you’re going left to shoot, right foot, left foot then bam! Kobe style!”, “you don’t find more than 2/3 hours per week to work on your game, look at how Kobe worked even when he was an NBA champion”.

Saturday, Lebron passed Kobe for third on the All-Time scoring list, in Kobe’s own Philadelphia. Coincidentally, the next day, Kobe was killed in a terrible helicopter crash that may have destroyed the body he worked on so much for more than 20 years. Kobe the player unfortunately became Kobe the legend but at least, contrary to the late Len Bias or Ben Wilson, there is no “if” and we had the opportunity to watch his greatness on the court.

May Kobe, his daughter Gianna, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester and Ara Zobayan rest in peace.