On Kobe

I was never a Kobe guy.

Heck, I was watching NBA games long before anyone outside the Jellybean Bryant household had ever heard of anything called a Black Mamba.

I was much more of a Jordan guy. Ultimately, you had to pick a side. Jordan had established himself as the greatest basketball player (arguably) of all-time but not long afterwards, there would come a man who would not rest until he was mentioned in the same breath. Or even be considered, dare I say, better.

Ludicrous, thought the Jordan fan. How could that be?

The divide between Michael and Kobe fans is not strictly generational although perhaps it once was. In reality, Kobe bridged the gap between Michael and what is now the greatest player of his generation, LeBron James, who now wears the uniform Kobe did for twenty years. There’s a reason for that.

The night before Kobe’s passing, which was eerily the night LeBron James passed him for 3rd all-time on the NBA scoring list, LeBron spoke glowingly of Kobe Bryant, of what he meant to him, of how supportive he had been over the years and how, in all likelihood, with no Kobe there is no LeBron just as with no Jordan, there might be no Kobe.

The NBA, God bless it, is a hand-me-down league, a league of shared respect, a league that is now in mourning.

“Kobe Bryant is gone and so, too, is a little bit of all of us,” wrote L.A. Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke, who covered Bryant ever since he came into the league. I sat at the breakfast table with my girlfriend when I heard the news. Like so many others, I broke into tears, wondering how this could possibly be. We later went shopping for a belated birthday present for her youngest son. Upon walking into the store, I broke down again.

I was never a Kobe guy but this was an incomprehensible loss.

I was so firmly in Michael’s camp that I found a young Kobe pompous. How could so many people think Kobe was even in the same conversation? Sure, he finished with five Finals to Michael’s six, as close as any driven superstar has come to fitting Michael’s shadow but Kobe Bryant was so determined to be the best he could be, it is no shock that he and Michael were cut from similar competitive cloths yet altogether different personalities.

Upon hearing of his passing and all the people Kobe touched along the way, maybe I was mistaken about these two all along. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak of Michael Jordan the way LeBron spoke of Kobe the night before his death. Maybe it wasn’t Kobe Bryant who was pompous and inaccessible but rather Michael Jordan after all. No one ever talks about how Michael mentored them. Michael gave back in his own way but his contributions were far less personal.

Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, with his 13-year old daughter and other passengers, on the way to a kid’s camp that he supported, not only with his pocketbook but with his presence.

Kobe was not without flaw. None of us are. But to see the effect he had on so many is otherworldly. This will not be the only tribute piece you’ll read about Kobe Bryant. It shouldn’t be. I’m not doing this for traffic. I’m doing this, as I do most work on this site, to process what the hell just happened.

Here’s the real difference between Michael and Kobe. I went to see the Lakers play in Orlando last December. The 2020 version of the Lake show has become must see-TV, now on their way to what LeBron James will most certainly ensure is another NBA championship.

I took this picture.

What you see here is three gentlemen, of early to middle age, all wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys. Kobe Bryant has not played professional basketball for years yet his impact remains immeasurable. Upon his passing, the ultimate Laker Magic Johnson called him the greatest Laker of all-time. One could argue that point but we’ll leave that for another time once our heads and hearts have cleared.

The point is that, as great and iconic as he was, if the Bulls came to town, you would never, EVER see three guys sitting next to each other at a game wearing Michael Jordan jerseys. It just wouldn’t happen. And therein lies the difference between these two mega-stars. Jordan may be more revered but he may never be as beloved.

“How can Mamba be dead? Mambas don’t die,” continued Plaschke as he mourned for all to read. But they do die which is what makes this news so earth-shattering.

A self-professed basketball geek of the highest order, like Plaschke and everyone else who heard the news on Sunday morning, I cried and cried and cried some more. It was hard not to as once again, a giant part of us has been ripped from our hearts and our memories.

Kobe’s determination to be the best, or at best his best, was rivaled only by the man he was trying to chase. Ultimately, Kobe did something that Jordan never has. He opened up. He smiled. Instead of harboring that competitiveness, he decided to embrace that in others.

Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter at the ripe old age of 41. It made the world very, very sad.

Upon hearing the news, a visibly shook Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters “We laughed and joked about the ‘mamba mentality.’ We’re all going to need it right now.”

I’m reaching deep down to find mine. Here’s to you doing the same. And here’s to the memory of one of the greatest talents to ever lace ‘em up.

I was never a Kobe guy. Little did I know, in the end, we all were.

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21 Replies to “On Kobe”

  1. I’m gashed.

    I was in public when someone broke the news to me. He didn’t say a word – he just showed me his phone screen.

    I reacted badly.. like many others.

    It’ll take a while to process this one.

  2. A personal story I don’t share very often:. Like Kobe, I am 41. Also like Kobe, my roots are in suburban Philadelphia. When my dad retired from the military in the very early 90s, we settled back in Philly, and I began to grow roots. One of my cousins was a freshman at Lower Merion High, Kobe’s alma mater. One night, just after football season I was invited to catch Lower Merion play basketball against my mother’s alma mater, Interboro High. Even at 14, I watched a man among boys that night. I don’t recall the stats that night, but I do recall the very visceral feeling that I was watching the early stages of greatness. After the game, a complete rout by Merion if memory serves, my cousin and I went to grab a cheese steak at a nearby shop. As we sat with our sandwiches, I noticed someone walking towards us. As it happens, it was Kobe himself, coming to say hello to my cousin. They shared a couple classes, and Kobe was wondering if he could borrow my cousin’s notes to study for a test coming up. He sat with us for about 20 minutes, and we talked, mainly Eagles football. But, for a kid that was already on his way to local celeb status, to sit and geek out with me over our beloved silver and green, I felt like perhaps we might be friends. Well, sadly, it wasn’t to be, as 4 months later my family moved to Atlanta. And then, a few years later, I saw him on SportCenter. The memory of that night came flooding back. That skinny kid, who I bonded with over football just once, was the talk of the NBA. And, over the next 20 years, I watched that kid assault the record books, win championship after championship, and muscle his way into the same conversation as Michael, Magic, Larry, and the Doctor. I’ve never been more proud to just have met someone.

  3. You know me and Im no Lakers fan but lived decades in Lakerland. I am still in shock. Mad respect for Mamba.
    He will be missed!!!

  4. It was a sad day and will continue to be for all basketball fans and really all sports fans alike. As a parent, my heart is truly broken for Vanessa and as a fan, my heart is broken for the league.

  5. Great tribute, Rev. It’s always a shocker when larger-than-life heroes exit way too quickly. The worst part is the kids going, too. He was just trying to be the best dad he could be. And that should be the goal of any father.

  6. I’m not a basketball fan,but when I saw the news I was deeply saddened.That was before I read the entire story. My sympathy and condolences go out to his family and friends. As a tribute we should all hug our loved ones a little longer and let them know how much we love them. RIP Kobe and GiGi.

  7. Wow. That’s a strong piece SC. So sorry for your sadness… for the worlds sadness. Your post is a raw and very touching tribute to an amazing athlete. My heart breaks for his wife… family… sports family everywhere. .. and my SC.

  8. I was eating out when the news announced Kobe’s tragic passing. Seated at the counter was an elderly couple waiting for their food order. It was emotional to watch how upset they were with the news. He truly touched all generations.

  9. Thank you Chris for expressing the sentiments that so many of us are finding difficult right now. I appreciate your observation that Jordan was a historic figure, but Kobe’s impact was more than historic, it was personal. From the time Kobe was a child, he was groomed to accept nothing less than personal excellence. He was the consummate scholar-athlete and a well-rounded person who could play the piano and speak several languages fluently as well as an entrepreneur and youth mentor with global impact. May we all similarly strive for excellence in our lives. Kéto Nord @KetothePhotoGuy

  10. Calvino…

    Back when we were doing our thing in Orlando, and Kobe and T-Mac were doing theirs, the conversations and debates we always had involved who was the better of the two.

    As dominant as T-Mac was in those days and as much as we always wanted to choose him as Magic fans, we both knew deep down inside who was better. That being said, T-Mac is just another one of those players who Kobe inspired to be his best.

    Catch the Jump interview of T-Mac if you haven’t already. He explains how their relationship evolved over the years and how far they really go back.

  11. Look at you, Storms, name-dropping.

    The only thing better than that story is if Kobe would have gone full Samuel L. Jackson aka Jules, asked if he could have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down and said Mmmmm… this is a tasty burger.

    I’m not too sure I’ve ever seen a high school athlete like that in his prime. I take that back. I did see LeBron play in Orlando as part of some AAU thing before he was an NBA player… but by that point, everybody knew who he was. I also have tickets to see Zion when he comes to Orlando in March.

    He’s not old enough to drink yet. Guess we’ll just have to handle that load for him.

    Hope all is well, my brother.

  12. Good to talk to you the other day, JJ.

    I’m sorry your birthday is surrounded by such sorrowful days. Just remember, you and I will always continue to celebrate life, love and brotherhood.

  13. BCole…

    The heart-warming part that’s emerged from this tragedy is hearing from a number of famous male athletes explaining what their relationships with their daughters means to them.

  14. Han…

    We haven’t had anything like this in a while.

    Prince, maybe?

    But even that wasn’t as tragic.

    Not the way it all went down.

    Oh, well. We move on, I suppose.

  15. MoS…

    I suppose, in retrospect, I’m a little surprised at how shook I am, still am, about all this.

    Just a horrible, horrible story.

    This was just my way of trying to figure it all out.

    It helped. I think.

    What I did learn is how closely knit a group the NBA is, another reason why I love the sport so.

  16. Ceida…

    This one man’s reach went worldwide and it showed.

    I was trying to imagine another current figure in American sports whose passing would have made the same impact.

    They’re few and far between.

    Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen again any time soon.

  17. Keto joins the fracas, nice!

    Yeah, tough one to still swallow.

    I have complete and utter faith that the Association will carry on his legacy in proper fashion.

    See ya’ around town soon.

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