At baseball practices — of which there were far too many to number — I can’t recall a single practice where the name, “Kobe” wasn’t muttered under a teammates’ breath as they arched a baseball towards a bucket 50 feet away. It inevitably would rim out, and make picking up the balls far less efficient than, say, “LeBron-ing” and stuffing that ball down the bucket’s throat. However, if one did in fact sink the “Kobe” shot, they would hold the follow through, stare a teammate in the eyes and call “game.” The team would go wild. You were the Mamba.
In junior high, one of my best friend’s AOL instant messenger screen names was “KobeManDan24.” He wore a gold 24 jersey often. He played basketball all the time and lived with confidence. For Dan, this was cool, because his parents had gotten divorced and life was strange for him. He found solace on the hardwood, taking jump shots and dribbling between his legs. We would play one-on-one, and I wasn’t as good as him, but I played decent defense and would often get him to pick up his dribble. He’d have no choice but to launch one up. “Kobe,” he’d say. If it went in, he’d tear at his shirt like he’d hit a buzzer-beater against the Suns in game six of the Western Conference Finals.
I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated college. I bought my 8-year-old nephew a poster with Steph Curry — his favorite player and idol — getting a shot up against Kobe Bryant. It’s now a famous play because after that shot went in, Kobe patted him on the behind and said, “keep going, young buck.” I felt a certain kinship to that sentiment that I wanted to impart on my nephew whose middle name is my first. He’s so smart, so insightful, and so inspiring, the way he navigates his life at such a young age. It’s impressive, I want to say to him, “keep going, young buck.”
My Dad and I have a special relationship to sports. We’ve had our ups and downs, but sports were how we talked. He’s the victim of childhood trauma, and he never had a good father figure, but he had idols. Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente (how ironic) and John Lennon (how ironic). Later in life, however, when he had became a married man with a son on the way, Michael Jordan started winning championships for his hometown team. I was too young to know what Jordan was like on the basketball court, but I know what he did for my father: he inspired him. I say all this for context because now my dad is 67, and after practicing medicine for fuck-knows how long, he’s going to retire someday sooner than later. When Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game as a Laker, his eyes welled with awe. I think he had a new idol.
In the age of #MeToo, I’ve felt very lucky and humbled for friends and family to tell me their stories in private. All of them heart-wrenching, and in many ways completely numbing. I’m always struck by how strong they have been, how emotionally mature and balanced they seem, and how fucking angry they are that nothing seems to be done about the problem. They aren’t hopeless, far from it. They use it as motivation. It fuels their fire for justice. I’ve never spoken to them about Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case, but one of them recently told me about what Kobe had been doing for the WNBA. “He wants to make women’s sports way bigger, probably for his daughters, but I know it’s part of his studio’s major plan.”
Here’s the point: are you fucking kidding me? Kobe Bryant died in a fucking helicopter crash? Australia is burning, Trump’s fucking president, and Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash? What? Shut the fuck up…are you kidding? TMZ? Oh, TMZ is the worst. They’ve said Lil Wayne’s died like 12 times. Whatever…wait hang on…Variety just confirmed it. Woah. Holy shit. Kobe Bryant died. With his daughter.