Kobe, thanks for all the memories. Rest In Peace.
By Marc J. Spears
People have asked me time and time again: What’s Kobe Bryant like?
“Simply the best,” I always answered.
I first learned about how much he cared when he showed up for a charity game for Hurricane Katrina victims in Houston on Sept. 11, 2005. I will never forget the image of him sitting next to a young black boy on the bench during the charity event. Nor will I forget how he took the time to ask me questions about my New Orleans-based parents and family, who were affected by Katrina. It meant the world to me. There were other NBA stars there that day, including LeBron James and Allen Iverson, but Bryant was the star of the stars.
I first learned about Kobe’s graciousness on Oct. 24, 2008, when my former college basketball teammate Troy McCoy took his 7-year-old son, Cameron, and two of his friends to a Los Angeles Lakers preseason game as a birthday present. After hearing the kids cheering loudly for the Lakers in an otherwise quiet game, Lakers media relations director Alison Bogli gave McCoy and the kids postgame passes to meet some players. Long after the game, Bryant came out of the locker room looking around and saying, “Where’s Cameron at? Where’s Cameron?”
A stunned Cameron put his hand up in the air, but was too shy to say anything. Kobe walked up to the boy and said, “Hello, my name is Kobe. What’s your name?” Bryant got Cameron to respond, then offered the kids words of wisdom and took a picture with them.
Kobe approached many of the people he was asked to meet postgame with attention to detail and focus, much like how he played ball.
“He would do a lot of due diligence on his own,” Michelle Obeso-Theus, who worked for Bryant from 2011-15, once told The Undefeated. “Regardless of how people view him, he is a genius. Very tenacious. Resilient.
“He taught me dedication and sacrifice to be great. His vision to see the future was crazy. When he said he wanted to meet someone, he always wanted to know what made them great. It didn’t matter if they were a wood-carver. He wanted to understand the mentality of what it takes for them to be a wood-carver.”
On Sunday morning, Bryant died at age 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. He leaves behind a basketball legacy as one of the greatest NBA players of all time and one of its fiercest competitors. He was an NBA MVP, five-time champion, 18-time All-Star, 11-time first team all-NBA selection and two-time Olympic gold medalist. But he was so much more.
Kobe wasn’t just another player I covered.
After he suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury in 2013, Bryant, showing his competitive fire, said via e-mail: “Please do me a favor though and write a piece about what I was doing prior to getting hurt and the numbers I was putting up and bringing the team to the footstep of the postseason. I feel they are forgetting how good I was for ANY age. And that nothing in my career suggests that I won’t come back just as good or better next season.”
Another time, when I mistakenly asked a question and referred to his four NBA championships, he quickly corrected me — it was five — and gave me that Mamba glare.
Kobe was often accommodating to me when doing interviews after games and practices. He called me “Big Spears” and used to give me a hard time for asking thought-provoking questions, once saying, “Man, you always asking me those Dr. Seuss a– questions.” He knew I could take his joking. Kobe had a sharp sense of humor.
One time with his Nike right-hand man Nico Harrison by his side, he playfully objected to doing an interview with me after a Lakers practice unless I changed my wardrobe that day: an adidas sweatsuit and shoes. Keep in mind that Kobe was then a Nike endorser who had a bad breakup with adidas. After some good-natured ribbing, he did the interview.
But when it came down to it, Kobe was thoughtful. In March 2016, I landed a job as the senior NBA writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated and I gave him the news via e-mail. Bryant responded by writing: “Happy for you my brotha!!! Write from the heart!!! Always here for you.”
On Dec. 17, 2018, I was on hand as the Lakers retired both his No. 8 and No. 24. It was his night, but on his way out, he caught a glimpse of me and yelled, “Big Spears.” We shared an embrace and had a brief conversation before he was whisked away. And I am far from the only reporter who Kobe was gracious to, as he made time for countless other media people in sports and beyond.
I last had an in-depth conversation with Kobe in a phone interview last February. He told me about his busy schedule when I asked if he was keeping an eye on the Lakers.
“Look,” he said, “between building an entire studio from scratch, hiring a publishing-production company, licensing, building an animation studio, writing the book, between that and coaching my daughter’s team every single day, I have no time. I mean I have no time. None.”
He remained driven and dedicated to his family.
On March 19, 2019, Bryant released his first sports-fantasy book, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. Written by Wesley King, Bryant’s youth series features characters of different races and background. He believed his daughters needed to see characters who looked like them.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the characters would be children of color, mixed-race, because that’s what I have at home,” Bryant said. “And that’s what I grew up with. But in the industry, itself, it is very hard to find that. Very, very hard to find that because we tend to … the general argument is that, ‘Well, they can’t appeal to the masses.’ ”
The basketball world won’t be the same without him. Neither will mine. Rest in peace, Kobe.