Kobe Bryant was clearly the most transcendent, electrifying, and iconoclastic of all athletes; a multi-lingual student of the game, and as some said, ‘perhaps misunderstood.’ I tend to see it that many were surely jealous of him, and not just for his supreme gifts as a player, and competitor, but for his most broadened outlook.
He was lyrical, and singularly focused, like Jordan, and even more so than Michael, he always had that multi-pronged approach to life, a Zen-like performer. Just watch Spike Lee’s ‘Doin’ Work,’ chronicling his in-game knowledge within every play, like ‘Art of War’ to the game of basketball.
‘I’ve seen the best workout ever by a teenager,’ Jerry West once said, recognizing Kobe’s greatness months before the Lakers traded for him at age 17.
Just before turning 17, I took a screenwriting course at UCLA during the summer of 1997. Amazingly enough, during those very weeks, Reggie Miller held his summer clinics there which featured some of the NBA’s premier players. Surely Kobe was there, but not playing in any full court pickup games. He was on the other end of the gym, on our court (at the far end) practicing, ‘doin work’ with his trainer, jumper after jumper, shot after shot, post up after post up. It was fun to watch, and witness, but of course five of us on our side of the court needed a 6th guy.
We were caught in a bind.
We all noticed Kobe practicing, and I suggested, ‘I’ll ask Kobe if he wants to be the 6th player.’ My friends were just like, ‘whatever,’ all shrugging their shoulders and laughing with delight.
I confidently walked over to Kobe and his trainer, and asked without missing a beat if he wanted to play along with us.
He demurred, and politely said, ‘nah, I’m good.’ I remember his very candor and cadence in his voice to this very day – over 22 years later.
He merely was ‘doin’ work’ & he had his job to do.
Years later telling the story to friends, I sarcastically would say that this moment propelled him to the pinnacle of NBA greatness: 18 All Star games, 5 championships, Finals’ MVPs galore, and clearly the most celebrated athlete of his day, and beyond.
Luckily, I caught virtually all Laker games while living in Los Angeles, and also while there, intently listened to the best sports radio show, ‘Loose Cannons’ which broke down every angle & nuance of Kobe’s unmatched skills and leadership. It was hosted by Vic ‘the brick’ Jacobs, Steve Hartman, and former Laker and color commentator Mychal Thompson. I vividly recall Thompson (father of Klay) had even called Kobe more supremely skilled than Jordan.
I also remember staying up well past 6 am in Israel to watch Kobe’s Lakers in the Finals. Just like in the US, and elsewhere, Israeli sportscasters would marvel at his artistry just by saying his first name. Before tipoff in Tel Aviv tonight, just hours after learning the tragic news, the Maccabi Tel Aviv organization celebrated his prodigious legacy during its pre-game.
For now, I can just say as an ardent NBA fan for life: Kobe Bryant was that special hybrid of lyricism and supreme talent; the likes we won’t see again. Ever.