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My Only In-Person Encounter With Kobe Bryant

by Todd A. Smith

 

 

My Kobe Bryant Story


I’ve been around Kobe Bryant once in my life.


However, I never met the man.


As a journalist, my mentors always taught me to remain professional, get your job done and do not become a fan because it is harder to be objective with a person if you become a fan of their work.


When I saw Kobe Bryant, I was preparing for another interview so I did not even have time to converse with him on a business level to get a story.


But with the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, I wish I had ignored all of my self-imposed rules and walked up to the brother to talk with him because he was then and will always be an icon.


Six years ago, I went to the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston to interview actor Jeffrey Wright and the stars of the movie “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”


Unbeknownst to me, the Houston Rockets had a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers that same night and opposing teams often stay at the Four Seasons while in Houston.


While I was waiting for the interview to begin, I sat in the lobby and in walks Kobe Bryant out of the blue.


But being the professional journalist that I am, I did not run up like a groupie or a fan.


I just let the brother go on about his day.


As a journalist, I have been around every iconic basketball player that I have ever admired like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas.


So to see Kobe Bryant was not out of the ordinary.


But the brother’s journey was unique because we are practically the same age.


We practically grew up in families with the same socioeconomic background.


We both had to overcome certain stereotypes about people from that socioeconomic background in order to gain the respect of our peers.


And we both had that tunnel vision and belief that God put us here for one thing only.


For Kobe Bryant it was basketball and using his money and celebrity to make a difference in society.


For me it was journalism and using the written and spoken word to make a difference in society.


But while the passing of other celebrities like Michael Jackson and Prince affected me deeply, Kobe Bryant’s death affects me in personal ways because we are from the same generation.


He graduated high school in 1996.


I graduated around that same time period.


He played in the McDonald’s High School All-American basketball game with and against basketball players I played against in high school like Stephen Jackson and Jerald Brown.


He played with Ron Artest with the Los Angeles Lakers.


I attended Five Star Basketball Camp with Ron Artest in high school.


I can still remember my father saying that he wanted to watch the McDonald’s All American game to see that “Kobe boy” play.


I can remember the air balls that he shot in the playoffs as a youngster.


I can remember my classmates from Southern University debating whether or not he should have made his first All-Star team.


I can remember one of my college classmates saying that he did not believe in the Kobe hype at the time.


But before long, everyone, haters included, had to believe in him because there was no hype about Kobe Bryant.


His talents and tireless work ethic were real.


His success was no accident.


And his legacy will never be in doubt.


While many people hated his on court confidence, or some would say cockiness or arrogance, Kobe Bryant showed everyone what could happen to one’s dreams if they have complete faith in themselves and an unmatched work ethic.


That work ethic led him to becoming a five-time NBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and NBA MVP during his 20 year professional career.


But not only did we experience Kobe Bryant’s successes, we also witnessed his trials and tribulations.


While on trial in Colorado for allegedly raping a hotel worker, we saw Kobe Bryant lean on his faith to get him through that ordeal.


We saw him go to court by day while still dominating the basketball court by night.


He did not run from his mistakes.


He admitted to adultery, changed his ways and became even more laser focused on the court and in his business endeavors.


He did not cower in the face of hecklers who believed he was guilty of rape.


He simply embarrassed the other team as badly as possible and silenced their fans in the process.


While many people will not deal with trials, tribulations and haters on the level that Kobe Bryant did, the way he handled adversity has to inspire even his biggest detractors.


The best way to put naysayers in check is through success, not by entertaining ignorance.


Kobe Bryant always knew his purpose and destiny in life, and he refused to stoop down to the level of his jealous haters.


He just kept growing as a basketball player, businessperson and a man.


Who could not admire his relationship with his daughters?


Who could not admire the loving bond between him and his wife?


And who could not admire the caring man that he had become to all around him after his competitive days on the court ended?


In retirement, fans got to see the real Kobe Bryant after he felt comfortable letting his guard down since he no longer had to compete night in and night out.


That realness is what makes his death more painful than Jackson or Prince because fans got to see a real person and not a Hollywood persona.


Although I never officially met him, even though I had the opportunity, the fact that we witnessed a boy grow into a real man before our eyes makes his loss personal to many people, even non-basketball fans.


He gave the world so much; it just hurts that we will not get to see what else he had in store.

This article was published on Friday 31 January, 2020.
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