It was February 8, 1997, at Mary L. Brown’s house in Lincoln Terrace, Oklahoma City, OK where I was four years old, eating popcorn and watching the NBA Slam Dunk competition. Mary L. Brown was my maternal grandmother and my first influence on professional sports. She was the biggest Michael Jordan fan, and outright basketball fan that I knew in my young life.
We were in her two-story, all-white 1920’s-style house watching Kobe Bryant win the dunk competition in his rookie season. The way he glided in the air much like Michael Jordan caught my grandmother’s eye, because she again, was a huge MJ fan. For me, I started admiring Bryant as soon as I watched his first dunk of the final round, where he went between-the-legs en route to his victory. Kobe’s confidence, charisma, aura and the larger-than-life energy he exuded is what attracted me to basketball.
Though Kobe won the dunk competition, he wasn’t thought of as a future perennial all-star or anything of the sorts. He definitely wasn’t touted to be a future global icon after his rookie season. He averaged 7.6 points during his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers and was named to the All-Rookie Second Team. Impressive, but not exceptional.
My admiration grew for him during his sophomore season as a Laker. At this point, when I’d spend time at my grandmother’s house multiple times a week, she already knew I was a Kobe fan. She’d turn the game on when I was there, of course only if it was a nationally televised game because we were in Oklahoma. I watched as closely as I could, Kobe’s ascension to stardom. In his sophomore season, he averaged 15.4 points per game in an increased role for the (61-21) Lakers and appeared in his first NBA All-Star game but still, Kobe wasn’t considered a superstar, just the new, young and talented guy in the league full of potential.
After missing the all-star game in the 1998-1999 season, Kobe reappeared during the 1999-2000 season, where he averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game on 48.8 percent shooting. That resulted in All-NBA First Team honors.
My fandom and Kobe’s influence on the league, including my life, took a huge leap during his first championship season in 2000 when I was seven years old. That only increased during the next two seasons, where he and Shaquille O’Neal took control of the league. Over the three years (’00-’02) that clearly defined Kobe Bryant as a superstar, he averaged 25.4 points, 5.1 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Again, I was at my grandmother’s house watching his first championship, and as she grew sicker, I watched the next two championships with my dad but again, my love for Kobe and his game continued to grow.
Kobe’s developing four years caught my attention. The following, where he never failed to qualify for an all-star game is where he kept it.
Fast forward to my professional career as a reporter covering the Oklahoma City Thunder, for this here website. More specifically, let’s fast forward to his final game in the Chesapeake Energy Arena on April 11, 2016. As a 23-year old, a few years removed from my own basketball career, I couldn’t believe that I was getting the chance to meet Kobe.
“It’s nice to meet you too. I’ll be seeing you again, my friend.”Kobe Bryant
During that game, I got the opportunity to cover his last game up-close. From he and Kevin Durant presenting the ball boys of the game to his final introduction in the Peake, to his postgame press conference, I got to cover Bryant up-close and personal. I didn’t get to play against him as I hoped, but this was one hell of a consolation.
Postgame, after he scored 13 points in a 33-point loss and after every media member concluded their interviewing of Bryant, I took a big chance. I followed Kobe out of the interview room and into the hallway as he walked out with a security guard and another man he was talking to. I just had a couple of additional questions for him off the record, that I wanted to ask him as a fan and someone who genuinely looked up to him.
As I approached Kobe, his bodyguard stuck his hand out and touched my chest, telling me that Bryant was done with interviews. I proceeded to tell Kobe that it wouldn’t take long and to just give me two more minutes of his time. Despite a (wrongful) reputation, of being selfish and self-indulged, he took the time to talk to me. He simply told the security guard that “he’s good” and told me to walk with him. I walked with Kobe nearly to the team bus, talking about my basketball career, my education, and my professional career along with receiving advice from him. After some words of advice, Kobe told me to adopt the mamba mentality in my life and never stray away from it. Still pretty starstruck, I was stuttering over my words, calling him Mr. Bryant and whatnot, but the conversation was over as he was at the security door that led out to the team bus. We ended the conversation by me saying a simple “thank you for speaking with me, sir. It was nice to meet you.” Kobe’s ended it all with “No problem. It’s nice to meet you too. I’ll be seeing you again, my friend.”
Those words meant a lot to me, considering my admiration for Bryant, but now, nearly four years later, they mean even more because I’m out of college, married, and deeper into my career. His words mean more to me because I understand them more.
Everyone should adopt a mamba mentality towards life because it is so fitting. Kobe was a great man. A role model for many other than myself. I’m sure my testimony is one of millions. Kobe was 41-years old, with what we, on earth anticipated as his best years in front of him.
We believed that Kobe had more to offer the world, and especially his daughter, Gianna Maria Bryant who passed with him in the helicopter crash. At just 13 years old, Gigi had so much life ahead of her, so much school ahead, and perhaps more natural talent her age than her father had, with the same work ethic. It’s hard to reason out how or why this happened to not only Kobe but a little teenage girl that won’t be able to live out her teenage years but God has his reasoning for everything and we shouldn’t question it.
Let’s just appreciate the life that Gigi did get, and the illustrious career and life that Kobe got to live despite what we thought we foresaw in their future.
Let’s make 2020 for Kobe and Gigi. Rest in Peace to these two beautiful souls and long live the memory of the man who’s drive inspired me in multiple aspects of my life.