I fell in love with the NBA during the 1991-1992 Season, which was Michael Jordan’s 8th year in the league and on route to his 2nd straight NBA Championship. I remember Shaq entering the league during the 1992-93 season after knowing next to nothing about him, Chris Webber entering in the 1993-94 Season, and Grant Hill in the 94-95 Season. Then I remember Jerry Stackhouse in 95, with Kevin Garnett.
But, then in 1996 is this kid from Philadelphia (my mother’s home-town) having gone to Lower Merion HS with cousins of mine, and that was Kobe “Jelly Bean” Bryant. I was a freshman in high school when he came on the scene, and it was like he was the next Michael Jordan. While there is no other MJ, who I always looked up to with reverence, Kobe was more like I grew up with him. He was just a bit younger than my older sister and just a bit older than me. He was my guy! I followed his career super closely. Watching him play in games, was must see TV for me. He was the consummate professional and the ultimate competitor.
And he was a great ambassador for the game of Basketball. When I talk to my students (all of whom are now 12 and 13, and even last year when they were 14 and 15) about who their favorite player in the NBA is, half the time they say Kyrie Irving. Well, guess what Kyrie aspires to be?…. The next Kobe! Family and friends 10 years older than me fell in love with the NBA because of Magic, and they became wedded to the NBA because of MJ. Michael was the guy that made me fall in love with the NBA, but it was Kobe who had me wedded to the NBA much like friends and cousins of mine 10 years younger than me fell in love with the NBA thanks to Kobe and became wedded to it by LeBron or the next man up. Today I see a generation of kids who love the NBA and say Kyrie is their favorite NBA player…a player who always talks of MAMBA MENTALITY!
I am so sad Kobe is gone, and I’m even more devastated that his precious 13 year old daughter Gigi, is gone too. Today feels like a loss that is proportionate with when Prince Diana died in the Summer of 1995. Kobe was that iconic, and it’s shocking to me that just at 41 years of age, I am already talking of him in past tense. It doesn’t quite make sense to me now, and it probably never will. But, I want to give him the respect he deserves and express my deepest condolences to his wife and 3 surviving daughters.
With a heavy heart,