I remember the first time I saw Kobe Bryant in person like it was yesterday.
I was covering the Chicago Bulls hosting the Los Angeles Lakers at the house Michael Jordan built; the United Center.
Bryant stepped off the team bus on the way to the visitor’s locker room. He came in my sight appearing in slow motion in surreal thought, demonstrating a slight limp from noticeable basketball playing wear and tear, sporting a grey suit and Lakers purple and gold Beats by Dre headphones. Upon entering the locker room, he stopped to take his headphones off to speak to a television reporter from the Lakers media market.
Bryant’s presence is commanding. Local Chicago kids experienced the same feeling I had the day before.
Bryant was the national ambassador for the “After School All-Stars,” a local school program in the Chicagoland area at the time I was invited to cover where he met a few dozen of the 3,300 Chicago kids who were in the program.
Bryant was also at the school to find out which pair of sneakers he would be wearing for Saturday night’s game against the Bulls. Groups of kids from Claremont and Parkside were competing to design the best Nike Zoom Kobe IV basketball shoes. They worked in groups and created colors on a computer.
Nike sponsored the competition, and the black mamba met with all the kids as the winning design was announced. The winners received tickets to the game. Moreover, Kobe will wear the sneakers during the game.
The winning team called themselves “Team Venom” and used snakeskin in their design.
“Everybody did a fantastic job in terms of relating the design to the game itself,” Bryant said. “That’s where it all starts. You don’t want to be creative to be creative. Be creative with a sense of purpose.”
Nike also provided the runners up with a pair of shoes.
“The After School All-Stars is a great program none of that can be lost in the event today what they are doing for kids,” Bryant said. “Giving them a safe environment to be creative and to follow their dreams.”
Bryant scored 28 points wearing Team Venom’s designed sneakers, as the Lakers rallied for a 117-109 victory Saturday over the Bulls in the first of a season-high, seven-game trip.
It was an average game for the “Black Mamba.” He shot 10-for-25. Even so, he got serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants in the house MJ built.
From the completion to two more NBA titles, I would have never guessed this was Bryant previewing his life on and off the court right before our eyes transcending the game with his influence on community work.
The way Kobe prepared and analyzed the game was beyond the boundary. He did not love just basketball; instead, he loved all sports. He was a superstar and a fan. He gave a pregame speech to the Philadelphia Eagles before a playoff game, the year they won the Super Bowl. He spoke to countless players and teams at every level of sports, from youth teams to the professionals.
Kobe understood the importance of cultivating the future of sports, besides sharing the valuable lessons of what sports teaches about life. He did not just give advice; he would ask questions from texting Michael Jordan in the late hours of the night, trying to understand the game of basketball and life as profoundly as possible.
Like a true champion, he never stops learning.
Bryant’s legacy speaks for itself. He left it all on the basketball court. Unfortunately, we will not get to his hear his Hall of Fame speech; as a matter of fact, he may have written it when he was nine years old. That’s the type of focus he had.
A five-time NBA champion. 18 time NBA All-Star, a husband and a father.
Kobe slept with one light on, not because he is scared of the dark, but because the dark is scared of him.
I reminisced and was reminded of that like the first time I saw him.