8 & 24

For many in Los Angeles the feelings for Kobe Bryant held no complications, he was for them, the King of Los Angeles,  the man who brought them numerous Laker titles and unleashed the Black Mamba mentality on the NBA. For some of us though, we were all about the eight and very little about the 24, we will always have mixed feelings toward the greatest Laker to ever wear the Purple and Gold.

Whatever feeling you had toward Kobe Bryant the news of his death via the helicopter crash yesterday was still a gut punch. The news took me back to the day I found out that Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash way back in 1972. Kobe was 41, Clemente was 38 and was possibly the most recognized figure in baseball because of his one year removed MVP World Series explosion in 1971. Until yesterday, the death of Clemente was what I would think of when a sports figure died suddenly.

Upon learning the news from my wife just a few minutes after the crash,  I pondered the irony that the Helicopter that cut his commute to Staples for all those years had now cut short his life. I also thought of the recent meme I had seen with him and his daughter at a Laker game. How at peace he looked while with his daughter. A few minutes later we all found out that his daughter Gianna had also perished with him. The gut-punch took on a completely different feeling.   Twitter didn’t help, photo after photo was posted of Kobe and Gianna. We had watched her grow from an adorable baby to the basketball prodigy of the family.

It was too much.

As a season ticket fan since the day that Magic had retired, the Lakers had been fun to watch but there hadn’t been one season where they were real competitors for the championship. That all changed on draft day in 1996 when the Lakers against long odds were able to secure a draft day deal for the 17-year-old Kobe Bryant.  Moving the salary of Divac for Kobe allowed Jerry West to sign Shaq a few days later and the rest is Laker history.

For me, as a fan, it was just the beginning. I fell quickly in love with the kid but like many fans, it was crazy to watch Kobe firing up airballs in the postseason that year while Nick Van Excel looked on. We all know championships didn’t flow to the Lakers just because they had Shaq. It took a few years before Kobe was able to uphold his side of the bargain and the Forum never got a Shaq/Kobe Championship before Shaq/Kobe took their game to Staples. Kobe would win a handful of World Championships at Staples but the first is always the sweetest and that was ever so true in 2000.

Since 2000 I’ve always had an easy answer to the question “what was the best moment in sports you ever saw”. The Lakers and Portland were tied at 3 games apiece in the NBA Western Finals in 2000. Back then as a Season Ticket holder, you had first priority to buy postseason tickets besides your own seats so I had brought two in the 300 section. The boonies if you well. I sold my good seats and took my niece to the game who had just come back from military service. This article describes this game and this moment is the moment I’ll never forget.

Kobe drives the lane as Shaq drifts towards the basket while signaling for a lob. The alley oop goes up. O’Neal stuffs it down one-handed, then races upcourt, mouth agape, two index fingers out in salute of everyone in his sight line.

The Lakers had been down by 16 heading into the 4th quarter. That play capped an incredible comeback and even from the boonies, you could see the emotion from Shaq after the ally oop dunk. Our section had been standing the whole game but was going absolutely nuts during the comeback. We no longer had seats, our whole section was just one big leaping/hugging/dancing party of 100’s. The Lakers weren’t champions when we left Staples but I’ve never left a sporting event feeling higher than I did that day. I figuratively floated the rest of the day.

That was the highlight of my Kobe fandoms. Incorrectly or not, I blamed Kobe for Shaq leaving, and the player who I had once idolized as a basketball player, was no longer the guy for me. As I became more and more of a Clipper fan, I became less and less of a Kobe fan. When Kobe wore eight it was fun to watch him grow into one of the Lakers greats, for some reason for me as he switched to 24 and became arguably the greatest Laker of all-time I simply wasn’t able to enjoy his style of game.

It has been easy to notice that among all the platitudes being heaved Kobe’s way almost everyone has ignored the Kobe Elephant in the room. The Rape allegations. That sealed the deal for my wife and she hasn’t been to a Laker game since 2003. That may not sound like a big deal but she went to 20 games a year from 1990 – 2003. It was a big deal that she felt Kobe was guilty enough that she stopped supporting the Lakers as long as he was on the team. This was the start of our journey from lifelong avid Laker fans to avid Clipper fans.  I never hated on the Lakers, I simply didn’t root for them anymore when they played the Clippers. It was a strange journey and Kobe was the centerpiece for the change.

It was a testament to Kobe’s ownership of Los Angeles that he survived the rape allegations. There were a few like us, who stopped rooting for him, but for the most part, his reputation stayed intact and flourished as more World Championships came his way once Pau Gasol joined the team.  You could easily say that by the time Kobe retired he was considered the greatest Laker ever and that is quite a statement when you have Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Shaq to contend with for that honor.  In retirement from all accounts, Kobe seemed at peace with being a father and making his family the centerpiece of his retirement.

Depending on how you define crying, I didn’t cry yesterday at the news, but my eyes were full of tears all day and night. So was my wife’s. This complexity of emotion is disturbing to me and I’ve never quite come to grips with how we deal with our heroes who are made of clay.  I’m still not over Bill Cosby being a serial rapist while all the while making me laugh for 50 years.  You can’t say Kobe got away with rape because of who he was, not when normal people get away with rape every day.  The struggle continues to this day to make men accountable after they hear “No”.  This was never more clear when you look at our Supreme Court and see not one but two men who decide our highest laws who didn’t take “no” for an answer.

In a few days, Los Angeles will hold one of the largest funerals in my lifetime. It will be for a man who owned this city, but while we celebrate everything he did for this city, it wouldn’t hurt to also continue or maybe even open up the dialogue about why that transgression didn’t alter his ascension into being the King of Los Angeles.

It is a sad irony that the Helicopter he used to cut his commute so he could expand his quality family time is the reason why his family time was eventually cut short forever.

I never thought I’d live to see this on Basketball-Reference.  Kobe didn’t survive Jerry West or Elgin Baylor. Both in the eighties. Inconceivable.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bean Bryant ▪ Twitterkobebryant

(Black Mamba, KB24, Vino, Showboat, Little Flying Warrior)

Position: Small Forward and Shooting Guard ▪ Shoots: Right

6-6, 212lb (198cm, 96kg)

Born: August 231978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania us

Died: January 26, 2020 (Aged 41-156d)


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