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I’m 24 years old, born and raised in Portugal, that tiny bit of land right next to Spain. Basketball isn’t that big over here, soccer is. That made me really not aware of the orange ball game till I was probably 8. That’d be 1996, the year the man that made me fall in love with the game and that purple and gold uniform came into the NBA.

At my grandma’s house on Sundays we used to watch TV in the living room after lunch. There was no cable or any international channels available so we stuck to what was on, 4 tv channels. On channel 2 they used to broadcast bits and pieces of that week in the NBA exactly on that day of the week.

I’d always look forward to watching it. Absolutely loved to see the dunks and the amazing plays as any kid anywhere in the world would. The first couple of years I didn’t really noticed the Lakers much. Whoever selected the highlights would show major love to teams like the Bulls, the Jazz or the Knicks… and that was fine I guess…I just didn’t know better. 1996 was also the year Space Jam came out and that marked a generation of basketball playing kids in Portugal, kids such as myself.

Jordan was obviously huge those days on any given playground any given day. Every single kid would wear the armband on his left arm slightly beneath the elbow as Jordan did. They’d even play with their tongue hanging out. That was fine for a while but I grew tired of that especially after I first noticed Kobe Bryant, a young LA Lakers’ shooting-guard that must have been 18 at the time. Here are some of Kobe’s highlights from back then.

If Jordan was mainstream, Kobe was just awesome. Young, athletic, exciting and fun. That’s what Kobe was and that is what Basketball was to me. As Kobe grew older and more experienced playing the game, so did I expecting greater things from him, and he never disappointed. I can’t recall how many times I’ve cried of joy thanks to one of his clutch buzzer beaters, and you know what I am talking about, you’re a Lakers fan too. I’ve made my girlfriends watch Lakers Basketball. I made them watch it and a couple turned out to be Lakers fans.

He’s almost exactly a decade older than me and that made me always look up to him as a roll-model. Friends and acquaintances have always given me a hard time because of things related to his personal life or him not passing the ball or whatever. The truth is that that’s the price you have to pay when you’re a Laker fan, the price you have to pay to be rooting for a winning franchise such as the PNG.

Laker Nation, allow me to finish with this. What a pleasure it is to see a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant play these days. What a game it was last night against the Rockets. What a brilliant player he is and how lucky are we to be witnessing true greatness through the game of that Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant, the Black Mamba. To be honest with all of you, I wish Kobe would never stop playing, that he’d be forever wearing that beautiful #24 purple and gold jersey going through defenses like only he can. Let us enjoy the last years of his career as we never did and may D’Antoni be worthy of the task that is put in front of him, to get us that ring #17.