35 years ago, as a child I loved the Lakers, my grandmother was a HUGE Lakers fan (she LOVED Magic) so they were the official team of my family growing up. 15 years ago, I fancied myself a writer, I was trying to get out there, make connections and do more with my life than just be what I was. I was also an AVID Kobe Bryant hater. I waited for the opportunity to bring it up in conversations. I relished in his losses. Post the Shaq/Kobe breakup I was 100% team Shaq, and when he got a ring in Miami without Kobe…. Man I was all in on the Kobe hate. I lived for the “Black hole of basketball” commercials, I loved the LeBron/Kobe puppets mocking him. If it was anti Kobe, I was a supporter. I had stopped pretending I was going to make anything of myself as a writer. I just couldn’t find the passion. I had been satiated in my quest for writing and for hating Kobe for many years, culminating in the year the Celtics (and my beloved Kevin Garnett) beat them in the finals. A victory that I had long felt KG had earned and made all the more sweet by the beating of Kobe and the Lakers. Then my hatred was rekindled when the Lakers signed Gasol (a bum trade that forever changed the NBA). Then something happened… Kobe became mortal (father time catches us all), he was injured, the Lakers were bad. Kobe had earned my respect, if not admiration. He never complained about the hate, held everyone to the highest standard (most of all himself) and raised the profile of the entire NBA. I found myself reflecting on his impact on the game, the fact that he truly was the closest thing to prime MJ that anyone had seen since. Peep this YouTube where you can just overlay them 1 for 1 and it’s like someone photoshopped the yellow #8 on MJ.
Then he went on his final run, 20 years in the league is a lifetime (literally for some of the rookies). He put up 60 in his final game and I had new feelings. I was happy for Kobe, relieved he got to go out his own way. That he was able to remind us all just who he was to us. Then I was sad, he was my guiding rock in my post MJ NBA fandom. I literally based my entire NBA routing policy on “whomever could take out Kobe and the Lakers”. I had lost my north star. But time always moves forward. With ultimate respect to who he was as a person, the world let him be. We knew he had big plans for his days after he was done playing. Nobody knew what they were, maybe least of all him, but we all waited to see what he would do. He went out and won an Oscar, he won an Emmy (things he was sure he would have over MJ). His star was just starting to re-ignite. As if it were the second stage of a rocket, firing up just as the first one burned out. His second life was thrusting him back into orbit.
Then came Gianna (whom they affectionately call GiGi)… Kobe’s middle daughter had caught the bug of basketball. She wanted to follow in his footsteps, to be the smartest, the hardest worker in the room, the greatest. Like a magician, he reappeared, on ESPN, at Laker games, on talk shows and back in the public eye. More importantly, back in the public eye for the game of basketball. She brought him back, that 13 year old girl, brought Kobe back to the game of basketball and to all of us, the fans of the game. He famously said he had all but stopped watching basketball, but once she was into it, it was on TV every night. As a father of a little girl (who we also affectionately call GG), I felt their connection to my core. The second our little girl shows an interest in something I am ALL IN. They do that to you, kids. Moreso little girls and fathers who are athletes (not that I’m anywhere near where Kobe is). She brought him back to the world, and the world embraced her just as much as it had ever embraced him. The world fell in love with this father, sharing his life’s work and passion with his daughter. There’s a thousand pictures and videos, SLAM magazine did a cover story on their bond and the shared love of the game.
And that’s what makes today so hard…
He was a part of us, the people who loved the game of basketball. But so was she. For me they represented what I wanted for my little girl. I want to have that bond, share that passion in something. Have my little girl seek out my lessons, my skills. Help me find joy in something I may have left behind. It’s been an afternoon of varying stages of grief. I had just put my GG down for a nap when I found out what happened. It was impossible to process, my heart hurt. It hurt for Vanessa, and Natalia, Bianka and their brand new baby girl Capri. It hurt for my wife, and it hurt for me. I religiously follow the NBA and I will be hearing for the next few weeks “his daughter GiGi also died…” That’s my daughter and my biggest fear. Hours into the tragedy all I could think about was writing. Telling the world about how this 13 year old girl brought one of the biggest stars in the sport, back to the sport. And how we all loved her for it. I’m older now, some say wiser (I have my doubts), but I do know this. He loved that girl, just as much as I love mine, and he was proud of who she was, and couldn’t wait to see her shine.
So that’s what I’ll do, I’ll hold my GG tightly tonight and do whatever I can to help her find her shine tomorrow. One day, people will write about the GG mentality, and she’ll say she got it from her dad. But I want the world to know, I got it from a kid from Philly (via Italy) who took Brandy to the prom and refused to pass the ball. Kobe Bean Bryant, and Gianna Maria Onore Bryant, rest in love.