Mavs Fan View: Learning to Not 'Hate’ Kobe As He And Dirk Ended Careers

How Kobe Bryant's respect for Dirk Nowitzki softened the hard feelings I felt towards 'Mamba' in the early stages of their careers.
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On the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that was about much more than basketball, SI and's Dalton Trigg's January 2020 reflection ...

Love’ is a word that most Dallas Mavericks fans will never use when talking about Los Angles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who tragically died on Sunday, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t murmur some hateful things about Kobe Bryant under my breath on a handful of occasions during the 2000s - especially in 2005, when Kobe outscored the Mavs by himself through three quarters, 62-61. It was masterful, but also maddening.

Yes, even thinking about that now brings up some of those harsh old feelings from when I was just a kid who had yet to fully understand what he was witnessing at the time. 

Over these last eight or nine years, though, something changed about the way I viewed Kobe Bryant. 

Did I grow to love him? I think that would be too strong of a word to use. Did he magically become one of my favorite players? Also a ‘no.’ But what I did learn, was how to respect Kobe's on-court accomplishments and his Lakers legacy the same way he respected Dirk Nowitzki. 

Granted, the Mavs sweeping the two-time defending champion Lakers in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, on the road to a title of their own, helped soften some of those initial hard feelings, but just watching the constant and genuine mutual respect shown between Dirk and Kobe in the twilight of their careers left a big impression on me.

And then there was their Jan. 26, 2016 love tap ... which felt like an "official'' acknowledgement from Mamba.

Said Dirk when Kobe was retiring: "He’s our Michael Jordan for my generation. He is one of the best to lace them up, and it’s been a pleasure and an honor to compete against him basically almost my entire career.”

Despite their many differences, the things Dirk and Kobe will always have in common include their fierce instincts on the basketball court, their insane work ethics, and spending their entire careers with the same franchise they became NBA champions with. 

“When no cameras are around,'' Kobe said in 2016 as he inched toward retirement, "I’m sure we’ll get together and we’ll have a beer or two and play against each other one-on-one.''

The emotions we've all felt as this story has been revealed have been devastating, so we can only imagine what the Bryant family ... and to some degree, even those who have always adored Kobe ... are feeling right now.

No matter what your feelings were about Kobe Bryant prior to now, just know that you don't have to 'love' someone to show respect for what they accomplished, or in this particular case, show compassion and mourn their passing. 

Kobe wasn't a perfect human being, but he was a basketball icon, and a huge piece of the NBA family and beyond, as evidenced here. He will be missed, and the prayers and thoughts of all of us at - who've long enjoyed our "sports hate'' of this brilliant foe - go out to all the families involved in this tragic accident.