T he first time I saw Kobe play, he started out on the damn bench. I wasn’t having none of that. I spent the first half yelling at Del Harris.
It was Kobe’s rookie year, early on, and Del wasn’t playing him too much. My wife, Kim, and I were in our usual seats, 10 rows back behind the bench, and I’m thinking, Nah, man. We didn’t pay good money to watch the young dude sit.
I was trying to get Del’s attention.
“Naked Gun! Naked Gun!”
That was my nickname for Del Harris, you feel me?
“Put the kid in!”
That was back in 1996. It was a good year. Bow Down came out that year, the debut Westside Connection album. That album, that year, changed a lot for us — WC, Mack 10 and me. The first time I heard someone bumping it next to me at a stoplight, I knew it was gonna be a good year.
There was an Italian-speaking kid from Philly who was about to make it great.
We just didn’t know that yet.
You gotta understand, it’s 1996. We’re talking about a time before Staples. And Staples is cool, but the Forum? That was the real sh*t. That’s the basketball I grew up on. The Forum was in my backyard. I could jump on my bike from my house in South Central and be at the Forum in 15 minutes flat — 108th to Crenshaw, Crenshaw to 90th (now called Pincay), bust a left, and I was there. My Schwinn Scrambler. It was one of those O.G. Schwinns. Root beer brown.
Me and my friends didn’t have money for tickets, but my neighbor’s cousin worked the turnstiles and he’d let us in. Once we were inside, we didn’t have no seats … but we were inside. That’s all we cared about. We could just take empty nosebleed seats. In there, man … we watched some history unfold. Magic, Kareem, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper, all them dudes. We walked around the Forum like damn kings.
Kevork Djansezian/AP Images
It was only right that the first time I saw Kobe play was right there at the Great Western Forum.
My wife was actually the first to tell me about this 18-year-old kid straight outta high school. Before that season, I didn’t know nothing about Kobe. I remember thinking, And he ain’t seven feet tall? What’s so damn special about this kid? Because it was unusual. He wasn’t a Kevin Garnett type. I was intrigued, but I had to see this kid for myself.
But by the second quarter, Kobe was still on the bench.
I was steady hollering at Del.
“Where’s the kid? Naked Gun!”
My wife was trying to quiet me down, but deep down I knew she was on the same page. Maybe Del finally heard me, because Kobe checked in before the end of the half.
I still remember how the sequence went down. Kobe got the ball on the wing. Right away, I’m noticing he’s moving different. He was smooth with it. There was just something about his vibe. I’ve always liked watching young players because you can tell a lot about their understanding of the game from their body language. In an instant — I don’t even remember how he got to the hoop — he goes by his defender. He attacked the rim and dunked the ball.
The Forum erupted. Me and my wife both screamed, “Damn!” It was something about the way he dunked it. The athleticism. How elastic his body was.
Then it hit me. I said to her, “We ain’t never had nothin’ like that.”
That one play, that was my intro to Kobe.
We ain’t never had nothin’ like that.
I had no idea the terror he was gonna unleash.
I’ve known a couple geniuses in my life.
One of them is Dr. Dre.
Every kid in South Central played basketball growing up. But not Dre. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dre shoot a basketball. While I was writing rhymes, playing ball, getting into trouble, doing whatever I was doing, Dre was already making records. So if Dre does have a jump shot, ain’t nobody ever seen it.
Dre’s never had no time for games. That’s the thing you gotta know about him. He wasn’t trying to be at the playground. If you wanted to find Dre back then, you’d have to meet him at the studio. That’s where he was. His dedication to his work was unparalleled. He was all about the music. He was about the work. The hardest I’ve worked on a song is when it’s a song with Dre — back then, and still today. Because you’re gonna do the vocals … and then he’s gonna make you do them over and over again until you got that perfect cadence. He’s a perfectionist. What are you gonna do, go in there, look at Dre and not work as hard? If you’re with the best, you gotta be at your best.
Another guy I put in the genius category is Kobe.
I could rattle off to you a ton of Kobe’s records, but you already know all of that. I could talk about talent, but lots of people have natural talent. Kobe was blessed with unbelievable God-given talents — and he could’ve rested on those talents and still been a great NBA player. He didn’t do that. You already know he was the first in and the last out of the gym. He was adding new elements to his game every summer.
I appreciate all those things about Kobe. I appreciate his talent and his work ethic. But what I respect Kobe for, more than any of that? I respect Kobe for his killer instinct. No one had it like he had it. That’s what makes Kobe genius level. How can you even describe it? There’s a song called “Natural Born Killaz” that I did with Dre more than 20 years ago. The track’s not about basketball, but the vibe is Kobe, no doubt about it. When I’m rapping, “All weak motherf*ckers, give my ring a kiss,” that’s on a Kobe vibe. That’s pure Kobe. Give his FIVE rings a kiss. He was a killa.
Kobe was the purest form of the competitive spirit, which is really what you look for in an athlete. You don’t see that sh*t as much these days. Everybody wants to be friends and go on vacations together and all of that. And that’s cool and whatever, but you don’t pay to see friends play basketball, you pay to see enemies play basketball. Kobe was the fiercest motherf*cker out there, on every play, in every game, for two damn decades. A Natural Born Killa.
You know what it is? Kobe’s like one of them shiny river rocks. It feels good in your hand, it’s smooth. But it paid the price to be that smooth. That took time. But it’s also a rock — it’s unbreakable. If I hit you in the head with it, I’m gonna knock you out.
Kobe is that rock, the combo of smooth and hard. The perfect marriage of work ethic and killer instinct, skill and drive. That’s what you gotta be to make it in L.A., and that’s what Kobe was.
So it shouldn’t be no surprise that the Lakers are sending not one, but two of Kobe’s jerseys into the rafters. Because he was two superstars. Smooth and hard. 8 and 24. Two Hall of Famers in one.
It’s like I said back in his rookie year.
We ain’t never had nothin’ like that.
We won’t again, either.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Throughout my career, I tried to sneak basketball references into the music wherever I could. Everybody in South Central grew up playing street ball. “It Was a Good Day” reflected that vibe. It was about daily life sh*t, so you know I was gonna talk about basketball.
If you remember the last two lines of the first verse, they went like this:
Freakin’ brothers every way, like MJ.
I can’t believe, today was a good day.
I wrote that back in 1993. The Bulls were running through the decade. The Showtime era I grew up on was coming to an end, but we were still beatin’ the SuperSonics. Kobe was still three years away.
I don’t remember when, but at some point during the Kobe era, whenever I performed “Good Day,” I started changing those two lines.
A lyricist knows when something rolls off the tongue the right way, you know?
And once I changed it, I knew I wasn’t going back.
Freakin’ brothers every way, like Ko-BAY.
I can’t believe, today was a good day.
Hell yeah, it was.
Thank you KB8/24 for 20 years. Wish it could’ve lasted 20 more.