How It All Started
I have been a Laker fan since 1979. It wasn’t always that way. Truth be known I seldom watched basketball in my youth. I was more into football. But whichever sport it was, I followed the Michigan Wolverines. What else was a kid to do who lived in South Haven, Michigan? Basically it was either Michigan or Michigan State. For some reason I gravitated toward Michigan. At least until a young kid they called “Magic” started playing for Michigan State. Magic played with a zest for the game and a huge smile on his face. He also was a hell of a basketball player. When he left college to join the NBA, I followed the Magic. Straight to the Los Angeles Lakers. From that moment on, I was a Laker fan. Those were good times. An NBA Championship in his rookie season and five overall from 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. He retired in 1982 once he revealed he had been diagnosed with the AIDS virus. The good times appeared to be over. At least until 1996.
The Coming of Kobe
That was when a high school phenom named Kobe Bryant declared for the NBA Draft. He was drafted with the 13th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets. But in a pre-draft arrangement was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a natural right from the start, winning the 1997 NBA Slam Dunk title and becoming an All-Star by his 2nd season. Once the Lakers acquired Shaquille O’Neal in free agency and hired Phil Jackson to coach the team, that turned into 3 consecutive Championships from 2000-2002. This was accomplished even though Shaq and Kobe didn’t get along very well. More proof that our sports heroes are above all else, human. When Shaquille O’Neal went to the Miami Heat, it was thought the championships were over. And while he had great individual success, the Lakers were unable to get back their championship ways. Critics blamed Kobe. He had driven Shaq off. He would never have won those championships without O’Neal. Kobe heard all the criticisms. If they thought he would succumb to them, they were mistaken. Not be a champion again? Not on Kobe’s watch. But it took time.
In the 2008-2009 season, after coming close a few times, the Lakers returned to the mountain, and Kobe would lead the way. They would defeat the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals and Kobe would win his first NBA finals MVP. For the series, he averaged 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks. And for a moment, Kobe had silenced his critics. The next season, the Lakers were back to defend their championship, but it was not easy for Kobe. Injuries to his finger and leg made him struggle at times and miss nine games. But he proved that if nothing else could be said about him, he was a tough, tenacious player who didn’t let illness or injury interfere with “the game.”
The Lakers would win their 2nd consecutive championship, defeating the Boston Celtics in seven games and securing his 2nd NBA Finals MVP. He had proven that he could lead his team to a championship without Shaquille. He also mended those fences with the former Laker and they became closer because of it. Kobe had five championships, just one behind the man he was compared to his entire career: the great Michael Jordan. Being a competitor, Kobe wanted that 6th Championship. But it wasn’t to be.
Accepting the End of his Career
Playing through various injuries and team turmoil, the Lakers would never get back to the championship that Kobe so desired and after 20 seasons, he announced his retirement at the end of the season on November 29th, 2015. He addressed his love of the game in his poem Dear Basketball:
From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.
A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.
I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1
Love you always,
It was this poem that became an animated short that would earn Kobe another prize. An Oscar for best animated short. It was narrated by Kobe and directed and animated by Glen Keane, with music by John Williams. Just like for all of his projects, Kobe went all out. This would make him the first professional athlete to win an Oscar as well as the first Oscar win for Keane, who was a veteran Disney animator. But Kobe wasn’t done with living his life. He put his money to work in other areas.
Bryant became the official ambassador for After-School All-Stars (ASAS), an American non-profit organization that provides comprehensive after-school programs to children in thirteen US cities. On November 4, 2010, Kobe appeared alongside Zach Braff at the Call of Duty: Black Ops launch event at the Santa Monica Airport. At that event, they presented a $1 million check to the Call of Duty Endowment. This was an Activision-founded nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to civilian careers after their military service has ended.
But as generous as Kobe was with his money, he never forgot his first priority. His family. He could often be seen in interviews talking about his children and his responsibility to them. It became a common thing to see Kobe at basketball games, sitting next to his daughter, explaining the finer nuances of the game he loved. He had given that love of game to his children, especially his 13 year old daughter Gianna (Gigi). But as we have learned many times in the past, life is not fair.
The unfairness of it all
Sunday, January 26th at 9:45 am PST, a helicopter, owned by Bryant, crashed into a mountain side in Calabasas, killing all nine occupants in the craft. Among them were Bryant, his daughter Gianna. Also included were Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa. Sarah Chester, and her daughter Payton, along with basketball coach Christina Mauser, and the pilot Ara Zobayan. They were going to Bryant’s Mamba Academy for practice. Nine lives taken much too soon.
Shock and Grief
As news of the crash and the victims were released, the entire world went into a state of first disbelief, shock, and finally overwhelming grief. But as much as Kobe’s fans are hurting, it is nothing compared to the loss his wife Vanessa and his remaining children are coping with as well as the family members of all the victims. We at GeekVibesNation offer are most heartfelt condolences to the entire Bryant family and everyone effected by this tragedy. We pray that God will give you the strength to face the coming days and know that your family is being embraced by fans and friends around the entire world. It is also a lesson to us all that we never know what life will bring. Don’t hesitate to let your loved ones know how much you love them at every opportunity. Never leave take it for granted. Follow Kobe’s example and talk about that love every chance you get.
For now, we will try to make sense of it all and continue to live our lives. In the meantime, I find solace that somewhere in heaven, Gianna is playing a pickup game along with the former basketball greats and her dad is watching with pride…and waiting for HIS turn to play.
I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.