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After Kobe Bryant’s death, Suns fans can admit they miss their enemy

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after a play in the fourth quarter of Game Six of the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What a horrible day. A wife lost a husband and a daughter. Her daughters lost their daddy and their sister.

The story of Kobe Bryant is unbelievable even without the word “basketball” used in the story:

1) An African-American child grows up in Italy as a soccer and basketball fan
2) Returns to the United States and becomes a professional out of high school
3) He marries a teenager without approval from his parents, nor their attendance at the wedding
4) His parents try to auction off their own son’s belongings without his permission
5) A public accusation of sexual assault that is settled out-of-court and a divorce declaration that is withdrawn
6) Through all of this, he is now known by his friends as an outstanding father and husband

Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star and future Hall of Famer who was killed in a helicopter accident Sunday at just 41 years old, has one of the most complex legacies of all-time. He’s the only player I ever remember who was worried about his legacy before he had one.

Immature, selfish and jealous of other stars early in his career, yet he won championships anyway. Shaq and Kobe could have been their own dynasty if they could have put their egos aside. After Shaq went to Miami, Kobe tried desperately to prove he could win a title by himself. He couldn’t.

Once the Lakers traded for Pau Gasol, there was a new Kobe that mixed with the old. Kobe still had all of the fire, but he stopped focusing on earning attention for himself. After a few years of losing to the Suns in the playoffs without much of a supporting cast, Kobe began playing no longer worried about his legacy and, for me, that’s exactly when his greatness shined like never before.

The three-peat championships appeared to be not about beating the competition. It was Kobe trying to beat Shaq and prove he’s as good as the legend of Michael Jordan. The 2009 and 2010 championships were totally different. Kobe was brilliant as a player and a teammate.

If you focus on the 2010 NBA Finals, there were different moments in the series where Gasol, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest had better stretches in individual games than Kobe. Instead of trying to get his own game going at the expense of teammates, Kobe fed them. For three quarters in Game 7, Kobe was terrible offensively, but his basketball IQ and leadership kept the Lakers in the game until Kobe returned to form in the fourth.

The legacy of Kobe for us as Suns fans is harder than any other city.

Let’s say it how it is as difficult as it is now that he’s gone: We hated Kobe. We hated him so much we loved to hate Kobe. Before Sunday morning, if someone asked you, “What’s your favorite Suns/Kobe memory?” we’d all think of one name: Raja Bell.

As a father and husband, my first thoughts are just with Kobe’s family. I feel like that every time there’s a tragic death, whether the deceased is a sports hero or not. When I think of Kobe as only the basketball player, there’s such a strange emptiness.

Kobe’s death forces us to accept what we always knew: He’s in the conversation as the greatest of all-time. With Kobe alive, it was OK to lie to ourselves and allow our hatred to cloud our opinions.

Now, at the time of his death, we realize how great it felt for our hearts to be broken by Kobe. Don’t believe me?

Which feeling would you rather have: the May 2010 Kobe knocking the Suns out of the playoffs feeling or the recent January feeling of watching the last 50 games of the year knowing the Suns aren’t going to the playoffs?

We loved being in the position to have an enemy. Now we’re in the strange position of wanting our enemy back.


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