Purple and gold weren’t colors that were to be sported if you grew up in the Bay Area.
They represented the likes of Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Magic Johnson — you know, success.
Sure, the Golden State Warriors had Run TMC and Andris Biedrins.
And then 1996 came around.
There was this kid who wore No. 8 that transcended the purple and gold, he was a marvel that represented someone that would ultimately change the game.
Just a decade earlier, Michael Jordan had done the same thing. While “Bulls” was emblazoned across his chest, he might as well have been wearing the NBA’s logo.
He was the game.
And this new No. 8 was ready to take that torch.
And he did — through a determination that would become defining over a 20-year career.
Previous generations had their iconic players: Russell; Bird; Magic; Jordan.
We had Kobe.
In early Fall 1999, I was just a cub reporter with the News-Press, finding ways to juggle my UCSB classes and my budding career.
With the Lakers spending their training camps in Santa Barbara in 1998-99 and 1999-2000, I happened to be in the right place at the right time — I was given the chance to cover training camp.
As a not-yet-20-year-old, seeing the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson and the cast of characters on those squads was admittedly overwhelming.
But talking to Kobe wasn’t.
He was just a year older than I was.
He still had something to prove.
And he was doing double-time to make sure that his own expectations became reality.
In those few days, I became inspired by a player that would put up an extra 1,000 shots after a grueling practice.
I became less intimidated by the size of a moment, and instead embraced that the moment was there to be taken.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t a Laker — he was a figurehead for self-belief.
Kobe couldn’t even sign his first NBA contract by himself, with his parents having to share in the moment because he was just 17 years old.
On Draft Night, Jerry West made sure that the Lakers worked out a deal to acquire Kobe, who had been taken No. 13 by the Charlotte Hornets.
Talk about pressure, the NBA logo himself was putting his own chips on the table.
Yet, Kobe met that with infectious smile after infectious smile.
Kobe dreamed of being a Laker, even though he grew up in Philadelphia 76ers territory.
He admired tradition, completely unafraid of the spotlight that comes with the expectation of success.
In 1999, I saw how reporters would goad Shaquille O’Neal, asking him questions about his free-throw shooting, with many of us taking a couple of gigantic steps backward as veteran reporters would go in on the big guy. It was entertainment.
But talking to Kobe was about basketball. It was about winning championships. It was about being the best player on the court.
And he was.
There was no one else you wanted with the ball if the game was on the line.
And that was a thorn in my side in 2009.
Now living in Orlando, I was part of a team at the Orlando Sentinel that had gone all-in on the Orlando Magic — our front pages laced with as much Magic Mania as we could find.
Kobe Bryant was our villain. He was the man standing in the way of Orlando finally having a world championship in anything.
I was only fooling myself.
There was no moment too large for Kobe Bryant.
After a Game 3 victory by the Magic — the first Finals victory in franchise history — there was mass mayhem on the streets of downtown Orlando.
We were on the streets, hocking newspapers like the Magic stood a chance.
Kobe ended that with 62 points over the next two games.
And while disappointing that the Magic wouldn’t be hosting a parade along Orange Avenue, there were throngs of fans donning both jerseys remaining at Amway Arena, cheering on Kobe as he celebrated on top of the courtside media table.
You couldn’t help but clap. You couldn’t help but tip your cap.
“He was such a great opponent,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s what you want in sports.”
Champions transcend the color of a jersey, they allow you to dream.
And No. 8 did that in spades.