Celebrating the Extraordinary Throttle of the Legendary Ballplayer, Kobe Bryant

After this indescribable misfortune, I want to pay my infinite respect to my most favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant. I say most favorite because I have a lot of favorite basketball players. If you are familiar with my story, you’d know that I grew up in Africa and emigrated to the USA in the late 1990s. When I was a teenager, Michael Jordan was the most famous ballplayer. Even though I love Jordan, before 1998, I did not have 24 hours a day access to a television. I never got to watch a live Chicago Bulls game until the late 90s. With Hip Hop, I had watched MTV music videos on VHS and listened to my favorite rappers on my boombox. Although I lived in Africa, for me, Hip Hop music ran parallel with basketball.

When I was a teenager, Michael Jordan was the most famous ballplayer.”

For some reason, even though I was living in some of the poorest countries in Africa at that time, I could get access to American magazines, VHS, and cassette tapes. Those items helped me to experience Hip Hop music and basketball, which were my two preferences when I was a teen. Moreover, since I didn’t have access to a television, I did my due diligence by learning black history the old fashion way – reading books. Ironically, even though I never saw a lot of NBA basketball games, I still loved the sport. Some of my friends and I had basketball shoes and played a little bit of streetball. I couldn’t tell you why or how it happened, but at one point, I chose the New York Knicks as my favorite team.

Maybe that came from a Biggie rhyme. I remember falling in love with the Knicks uniform and always dreaming of going to Madison Square Garden. One of my friends was like a celebrity in our neighborhood because he had Patrick Ewing’s Reebok Pump. So yes, I was always a basketball fan. I’d learned about legends like Bill Russell, Dr. Jay, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson. At that time, the only player with whom I felt a connection was Shaquille O’Neal. That was because he rapped. He had made the legendary dunk that broke a backboard. O’Neal also had the Reebok Shaq at the time. Years later, though it was brief, I was elated to meet him in Toronto.

I’ve also been a big Reggie Miller and Allen Iverson fan. Today, I’m an NBA nut who follows almost every player in the league. The reason why Kobe Bryant, unlike Michael Jordan, became my most favorite player was that he is the athlete I watched with my own eyes. He had just signed with the NBA when I emigrated to the United States. As you can imagine, my first goal after moving to America was to buy and enjoy all the things I never had before. I wanted a job, a furnished bedroom, an American girlfriend, a big stereo player, a TV, and a car. I remember buying ten pairs of Tommy Hilfiger sneakers the first time I visited Marshals. I had every color. Between 1998 and 2001, I did a lot of shopping. LOL!

The most seasoned NBA basketball heads may not respect my list, but my top five players are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan.”

I was so determined to experience the American Dream that I achieved my earliest goals by the autumn of 1999. Back then, I lived in a courteously furnished basement. I’d even enrolled in college to study theater. One of the things I did when I had my life together was to update myself on everything I’d missed. I caught up on old TV shows, sitcoms, music videos, boxing matches, movies, and finally, I watched Michael Jordan live on television. Even as a die-hard Knicks fan, within a short time, I fell in love with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. My love for Kobe Bryant spread to the entire NBA because I came to appreciate and respect all of his opponents. That was my first real experience as a basketball fan.

My favorite players on that Lakers team were Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox, and Kobe Bryant. At that time, my New York Knicks seemed to be losing every game, while in LA, the Lakers were on fire. I have remained a Knicks fan over the years, although I’ve also supported other teams like the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Toronto Raptors. The most seasoned NBA basketball heads may not respect my list, but my top five players are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan. If you look at my list, you will find that Michael Jordan is the only player who was active long before I moved to the United States.

In the year 2000, I was in my early twenties and was trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. I’d come home from college or work, sit on the couch, and watch basketball on TV. I also watched the NFL, the PGA Tour, Tennis and a bit of soccer. Whenever I tuned into ESPN or TNT, Kobe Bryant was the most brilliant and exhilarating basketball player I saw. His long-distance three-pointer was a sure shot. He could drive the lane and drain all kinds of buckets off the dribble, and his dunks were explosive. As I got to know the prodigious basketball player, I discovered that his life was not so seamless. He had many detractors and haters. He was on a journey to prove his naysayers wrong as we cheered him on.

Many people slandered him. They claimed that he was too arrogant, selfish, and proud. It was a painful time for his fans.”

Having similar problems, I connected to Kobe on a level that was deeper than just basketball. In the 2000s, I wasn’t one who believed in conspiracy theories. But as the years went by, I couldn’t avoid the thought that maybe someone was after Kobe Bryant. It turned out that no matter how well he played or how often he won, the mainstream media was always trying to ruin his image or even his life. I think one reason why many people love Kobe Bryant is that we saw him dealing with betrayals while fighting to preserve his reputation, family, and legacy. The fact that he was an excellent ballplayer pulled us into his headspace. The more we loved him, the more the media tried to destroy him.

There was an annoying situation when other players and the press criticized him for not passing the ball. At that time, Kobe was wearing the number 8 jersey. Many people slandered him. They claimed that he was too arrogant, selfish, and proud. It was a painful time for his fans. The situation escalated into a feud between him and Shaq, and people accused him of driving Shaq out of LA, which was not the case. We all watched him struggle to get out of that situation. Then there was the sexual accusation that smeared his sparkling image. Incidentally, a Colorado resort employee accused Kobe of rape. He claimed the sex was of mutual consent. The question was if that accusation was true or false?

Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant (R) cries as he admits to adultery in front of his wife Vanessa, in response to today’s news…

According to authorities, DNA testing revealed that the accuser had semen from several other men inside her at the same time. There have also been reports of some unexplained pubic hairs on her genitalia. Nevertheless, the authorities forced Bryant to apologize. His confusing apology was in a context that suggested he may have misinterpreted her consent or lack thereof. When the investigation found that the accuser had unprotected sexual relations with various men around the same time she slept with Kobe, she abandoned her case. However, after the court broke off the counsel, she returned to sue him in a civil court and finally received a check. For us as fans, that verdict was one-sided.

What I admired was how this man, Kobe, went on to fight to save his marriage.”

It seemed like someone had directed the erotic faultfinder to seduce and entrap the ballplayer. It was also a moment of Kobe’s weakness since, at the same time, he was cheating on his beautiful wife, Vanessa. Can I judge the man? No, I can’t. I am also a man, and I reason that I would have fallen into an equivalent snare if the same deception happened to me. The accuser’s unverified claim prompted me to give Kobe the benefit of the doubt. What I admired was how this man, Kobe, went on to fight to save his marriage. Some people may conclude that I have overlooked the seriousness of adultery and rape, but I will never do such a thing. After the dropped charges, Kobe transformed into a more devoted husband.

I don’t want to play the race card, but in this society, racism is the elephant in the room. If Kobe had raped this Caucasian woman, the evidence would have shown it. And as a black man who was already fighting to maintain a good title, I don’t think the authorities would drop the case if they had clear evidence that he committed that crime. Again I looked at what Kobe was doing after this situation to assess the type of person. I commended him for coming clean about the adultery and doing everything he could to gain his wife’s forgiveness. Kobe Bryant played the most vital role in helping the Lakers win their so-called three-peat. Of course, one player does not win a championship. It’s a team effort.

Without Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, Rick Fox, and all other players on the team, he would not have been able to win. In my opinion, however, Kobe Bryant did not receive the full appreciation he deserved for his contribution to the Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal joined the Miami Heat and won a championship with Dwayne Wade, and critics mocked Kobe as if it were karma he deserved. As a Kobe fan, you couldn’t help but support him to the end. You wanted him to win another championship, you wanted his wife Vanessa to stay with him, and you wanted Kobe to be a responsible father and husband for the good of his family. Kobe Bryant became a superhero for most heterosexual black men.

Yes, he had sustained a severe injury, but to me, it felt like Kobe was tired of the fight and decided to move away from something, someone, or whatever it was that wouldn’t leave him alone.”

I mean, none of us were there to know what happened, but as fans, we could only speculate about what we thought. Over the next few years, we saw Kobe fight to make a comeback with his Lakers team. They had slumped so badly that they even struggled to make the playoffs a couple of times. Kobe continued to work tirelessly. He also believed that one day he would win three more rings so that he could be like Michael Jordan. After so many defeats, the sun finally came and shone on Kobe and his Los Angeles Lakers. They won two more championships before the end of the 2000s decade. Kobe now had five championship rings, and it seemed that his criticisms were getting fewer and fewer.

Was anyone after Kobe Bryant for any reason? Had that person given up and decided to let him go? Those are questions I can’t answer. I was amazed to see that even though he loved basketball so much, he retired very early. Yes, he had sustained a severe injury, but to me, it felt like Kobe was tired of the fight and decided to move away from something, someone, or whatever it was that wouldn’t leave him alone. What else did he have to prove in the world of basketball? Bryant was the real black mamba. He managed to survive a scandalous divorce twice, winning three championships with a fantastic Lakers team, and then he won two more epic championships with another great group of guys.

Every non-Lakers fan who followed Kobe Bryant while he played in the league, was looking forward to his career after the NBA. We thought it was great that he had moved to the next phase of his life. He founded a new film company (Granity Studios), produced a short film and won an Emmy. Mamba invested in Venture Capital, spoke against racism in European soccer, supported the WNBA, and realized his fans are worldwide. He even launched the Mamba Sports Academy as a workout facility for all athletes. With billions of fans all over the world, we eagerly anticipated to see what Kobe Bryant was about to do next. He was only 41 years old and a fit, trilingual, articulate, wealthy, ambitious, and inspiring man.

By 2020, Kobe Bryant had won against his critics! His marriage was in a respectable place, and his adorable wife had just had another little girl. He enjoyed fatherhood with his daughters while Gigi, is second-born, rekindled his interest in basketball, and vowed to carry on his legacy. It should be safe to say Kobe had everything to live for. At that point, Bryant could become a statesman or even president of the United States if he chose politics. But unpredictably, on a fateful Sunday in January, his helicopter quickly ran into an unexpected fog, had a mysterious failure, crashed, and was broken to pieces. Within minutes, the sudden and tragic accident ended the extraordinary lives of nine amazing people.

May his soul rest in perfect peace! Thank you, Kobe Bryant, for everything you taught us. You showed us how to maintain a good work ethic, how to prove our critics wrong and be champions, how to deal with mistakes and shortcomings, and how to father little girls. Rest in peace to Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Sarah Chester, and Payton Chester. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to all your families and may the Highest send his angels to comfort you all in this tragic and heartbreaking time. I want to send my deepest sympathies to Mrs. Vanessa Bryant and the entire Bryant Family. Words can never express the pain we feel in our hearts.*

Rest in Peace, Kobe Bryant!

www.freddywill.com

Leave a Reply