Kobe Bryant, Thanks For the Memories
My grandfather and I share many things in common, an appreciation for red wine, an affinity for jazz, and an unbridled passion for all things sports. There is an old adage that goes “idle hands are the devil’s playground,” the Bronx can be a challenging place to raise a child, anticipating this he registered me in as many sports as possible. As I grew older, my appreciation for sports became more sophisticated and nuanced. Recognizing this, he ordered subscriptions to the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated to keep me busy during our downtime. Our exchanges were elevated because of it, our conversations slowly morphed from a one-sided “Q and A” into quasi-history lessons.
My grandfather’s favorite athlete was Joe DiMaggio. Ted Williams and Willie Mays were a close second, but no one captured his heart quite like DiMaggio, he never wasted an opportunity to take about mighty Yankees of the 1930s and their fearless leader “Joltin” Joe, often pontificating from his barstool like a preacher giving a sermon atop a mountain. My grandfather had always been my hero but as our conversations grew more intimate, I started to realize that my grandfather had set of heroes of his own.
On Monday, March 8, 1999, Joe DiMaggio passed away. When I finally made it to my grandfather’s apartment afterschool, I could hear Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” blaring in the hallway. When I unlocked his door, I found him on his terrace, wine in tow, passively watching a DiMaggio tribute on ESPN Classic. My grandfather gently rose from his chair, hugged me every so gently, and with welling eyes told me, “I’ll be alright.” I’d never seen my hero so affected by something I’d considered to be so peripheral. It would take a little over 20 years for me to understand why a “stranger’s” passing affected him so much.
Contrary to popular belief, Kobe Bryant took the road less traveled to superstardom, drafted into the NBA out of high school at the tender age of 17, Bryant found himself on the bench fighting for minutes behind a future all-star in Eddie Jones. His rookie year ended on a particularly rough note when in the closing minutes of the Western Conference semifinals, Bryant air-balled a fadeaway at the end of the regulation forcing overtime. In the extra period, Bryant air-balled another 3 shots including the potential game-tying three-pointer, which ended the Lakers playoff hopes. This moment would serve as a microcosm for Kobe Bryant’s career.
His career, much like his life, much like all of our lives, was a ceaseless cycle of ebbs and flows, glorious victories followed by gut-wrenching failures and vice versa. The world watched first hand as he traversed the NBA landscape for 20 seasons leaving behind a legacy that was as complicated and complex as his play, he was the brash rookie, the golden boy, the world champion, the overachieving sidekick, the spoiled superstar, the villain, and the pariah before morphing into the Black Mamba.
Death is the final chapter of the human experience, the great unknown. Sports journalist Mitch Albom succinctly stated it best in his book “Tuesdays with Morrie” that “maybe death is the great equalizer, the one thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.” When a person of influence in your life dies, it can feel like a part of you is being buried with them. I grieve for all those who lost their lives in the tragedy. The parents who like my grandfather wanted nothing more than to spend quality time with their loved ones. The children who will never get the opportunity to experience life and it’s many complexities. My heartaches for those they left behind, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters whose lives were irrevocably changed in an instant, who in the wake of this devastation are left behind to piece their families back together. Lastly and selfishly, I mourn for my childhood hero, Mr. Kobe Bryant, thank you for the memories.