HOUSTON HAD TO WAIT UNTIL HE WALKED AWAY TO APPRECIATE THE TRUE GREATNESS OF HIS GAME

Kobe was the man Rockets fans loved to hate

Photo via:KobeBryant/Twitter/Screenshot

It's ok to admit it Rockets fans, you secretly respected the hell out of Kobe Bryant even as you outwardly mean mugged him and acted like you despised him. You had to, he was the best player on one of your team's biggest rivals. You furrowed your brow every time his name came up in a conversation or on a news story, but you damn sure weren't going to miss the opportunity to watch him perform live or on TV when he took the floor against your squad. You hated him because he was better than the best player on your team and you knew that his team may be less talented as a whole, but just his mere presence on that squad gave them a better than average chance of beating you. He had that "it" factor along with a lot of talent, and he was the perfect storm of what a superstar should be. He loved to be the villain and enjoyed the thrill of victory even more when it involved doing it in your gym. Don't be mad he did it, be glad you had the chance to see him do it, especially if you were lucky enough to witness it in person.

I was one of the "lucky" ones. I worked for the Rockets, so I got the opportunity to see him play up close and personal for all 20 years of his illustrious career. I could not stand him when he played my team because he just exuded confidence and bravado on the court. No lead was ever safe and most leads disappeared the minute he decided to kick it into overdrive and take over. Remember Shane and Ron Artest doing anything and everything to stop the "Black Mamba" only to end up snakebit in the end? How about the fact that after his rookie season he was 39-27 against the Rockets in the regular season and a perfect 3-0 in playoff series matchups. Sure Shaq and Pau Gasol and others played a role in those results, but the one constant in all those games was Kobe Bryant was at the forefront for the Lakers and there was no doubt he was going to leave his mark on every contest. I lost count of how many times I thought we had him beat, had victory in hand, only to head home, shaking my head, trying to figure out how he was able to do all that he did to pull L.A. through? You couldn't stop him, you could try to double him, you could even try to fight him as Artest tried to no avail, but in the end all he cared about was that you couldn't beat him. Sure the Lakers could beat themselves and mistakes could lead to victory, but the chances that Kobe was going to crack under pressure or give a game away was just out of the realm of possibilities.

I was never able to truly appreciate the greatness of Kobe Bryant until he retired. I had to have that grace period to cool off and get over all the agony, the hurt and the heartbreak that he almost single-handedly delivered to me and my team over two decades of numerous battles. Once I had the chance to look back and reflect of his career and take the personal side of it out of the equation, how could you not appreciate his greatness and commend him for all the memorable moments he provided for the game of basketball? Sure some will remember the air ball in crunch time against the Jazz in his rookie year, but more will remember the 60 points he dropped on Utah in the final game of his career. In between those bookend moments, there was the 81 point game, 5 NBA titles, 1 MVP, and all those All-Star games and All-NBA teams. Even in the darkest moments of his NBA career, immediately after suffering a torn Achilles, he insisted on going to the free throw line to shoot the two free throws. He didn't just take them, he made them, even further cementing the legacy and that "Mamba Mentality." As a player, he did it the right way, his way and set the highest standard in sports in terms of work ethic, toughness and the amount of work you have to put in to get out everything you could possibly desire. As he walked away from the game I thought he had broken my heart for the last time, but little did I know he had the ability to do it one more time. Rest in Peace Kobe.

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Martin Treux Jr. is a threat to win each week. Photo via: Wiki Commons

The NASCAR Cup series heads for the paperclip this week for the Xfinity 500. This will be one of if not the most important race of 2020. This will be the final race before we decide who races for a championship in two weeks at Phoenix and what better place to decide that than here at one of NASCAR's most legendary tracks. There is a good chance we see a driver put the bumper to someone for the win as everything will be on the line for the eight drivers who are trying to punch their ticket. You definitely won't want to miss this race as there are sure to be hurt fenders and hurt feelings.

Last week NASCAR had maybe the longest rain delay in the history of the sport as mist halted the field for nearly four days. On Wednesday the race was finally restarted around the evening as they were finally able to complete the remainder of the race. When they finally got started, Kyle Busch was able to drive away from the field and claim his 57th career victory. While in the grand scheme of things this victory won't have too much of an effect on the championship, for Kyle to finally break that winless streak and make it to victory lane for the first time in 2020 had to have been special for him.

Another bright spot for this race was the emergence of rookie phenom Christopher Bell. In the closing stages, he seemed like he had the fastest car on the racetrack and was suddenly reeling in Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch for first and second but just couldn't seem to find the momentum to pass them. This race was special for Bob Leavine and his race team as this would be their final race at their home track. To commemorate this, they drove a throwback paint scheme to 2011 when the team started. I don't know if Bell and this team will get a win this year but I can see them rattling off some good runs before Leavine Family Racing closes its doors at the end of the year.

The final domino to fall in this year's insane Silly Season has finally come down as it was announced that Kyle Larson will drive the #5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports next season. Now everyone knows what happened with Larson earlier this year when he used a racial slur that cost him a job at Chip Ganassi Racing. This was one of the most embarrassing moments for the sport in recent memory and there isn't any doubt that Kyle deserved to be suspended. But I have to say I have been impressed with his community outreach efforts. Overall, I think that he is truly sorry for what he did and has learned from his mistake and that is something I can respect. I hope that he can continue down his road of improvement but now he will have to remember that he will be under constant media scrutiny and will have to be very conscious of what he says. But I think he will understand that and do just fine. Regardless, I wish him nothing but success going forward as he is one of the most talented race car drivers around.

So it has come down to this, eight drivers will have one more chance to qualify for the championship race. The four drivers that are currently in are Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski. Without a doubt, these four drivers are probably the most deserving as there have been 23 victories combined between all four of them. While these are the four most likely drivers to get in, there is always a good chance that one of the drivers on the outside looking in can win and take a spot from one of those four. Those four drivers are Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr, and Kurt Busch. While Bowman and Elliott can still mathematically get in on points, for the other two, it is win or be eliminated. While Busch has shown speed here I am not sure if he can run with some of the faster cars in the field. But if there is one thing we know, him and his crew-chief can get in on strategy as they did at Vegas. Martin Treux Jr is another threat to win each week, but he will be without his crew-chief James Small after it was discovered last week that he had an illegal spoiler as his crew-chief was ejected, and he was docked 20 points. If there is one thing the 2017 champion has on his side though is that he did win here earlier in the year. This battle will be fun to watch for sure.

The driver that I have winning this week was one I mentioned earlier and that's Chase Elliott. Over the course of his seven starts here, he has three top fives and five top tens. He has been so fast here ever since his rookie year in 2016 and even made his first start here one year earlier in 2015. This track is similar to what he cut his teeth on in the late models around the southeast and that has reflected in his performance. While he hasn't won here yet, he has been very close including back in 2017 when he was leading the race before being taken out by Denny Hamlin. I look for him to break through this weekend and clinch a spot in the championship race at Phoenix.

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