I was 11 years old during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. My family had just moved to Kansas City, Kansas and I had no friends. Prior to moving, I was slowly falling in love with the game of basketball. I have stated in previous articles that Dwyane Wade is my favorite player and he inspired me to be greater. However, at the time, the 2nd favorite was Kobe Bean Bryant. When we first set foot in Kansas City, it was just my mother and younger sister. It was the beginning of June, and the NBA finals had just started. It was the Boston Celtics vs. The Los Angeles Laker. For the entire regular season, I would wait for my dad to get home from work and watch religiously almost all televised games. He would help me understand the rules, fouls and so on. My father helped develop my knowledge of the game of basketball. Even during the playoffs, he and I would gather in our sun room and watch the games on an old static television.
Once we moved to KC, I had no one to watch the NBA Finals with. My mother and sister were posted in the top floor of the Embassy Suites, all the while a thunderstorm was occurring. While my mother and sister were worried about an impending tornado, I was worried about being able to watch the game. Throughout most of the game, the game was put into a box at the bottom right at the screen while the local weathermen showed us the radar, constantly updating us on the storm. My only concern was what my dads thoughts were on the game.
Flash forward now to 2 months later. The Mens Olympic Basketball Team was on a quest to redeem the country with a squad of Kobe, D-Wade, LeBron, Dwight and so on. Since the games were taking place in Beijing, there was a significant time difference. That was not a problem for my father and I. Every time they played, we woke up at 7 am and watched the game for as long as possible until he had to go to work. Each game I was wearing my D-Wade red Miami Heat jersey, hopping up and down, excited out of my mind that I was able to share this memory with him. After the team advanced to the gold medal game, it was announced that the game would be televised live at 2 am, CST. My dad looked at my and said “I’m down if you are”, and I nodded my head.
On the early hours of August 24th, 2008, I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It was my father. He quietly asked me “Are you ready to watch the game?” and I of course said yes.
Through the first half, the game was tight. US-Spain were going back and forth, and D-Wade was having the game of his life. Once the 4th quarter came around, I witnessed my first ever “Mamba Moment”. It began with a Kobe drive from the right wing against Rudy Fernandez of Spain. The score was 91–89 USA, with 8:00 to go. Kobe got into the lane and put up a tough shot, hit the back of the rim, and in. The next two plays were both assists. One was a falling pass to Deron Williams who sank a three. The next assist came after Ricky Rubio almost striped Kobe, and he drove and dumped it off to Dwight Howard for the slam. 98–89 USA. A few seconds later, Kobe nails a corner 3. 101–92, USA. However, no shot has stuck with more than the one Kobe hit with 3:10 left. Coming off a pass from D-Wade, Kobe jab steps against Fernandez, and pulls up. Whistle and the foul. Swish. And 1. Kobe immediately holds up his pointer finger against his lips, silencing any doubters about this team. The most cold-blooded thing I have ever seen.
Once the game was over, I asked my father for a USA #10 Kobe jersey. A few weeks later, it arrived in the mail.
Where am I going with this? Is this a story about my favorite Kobe moment, or a cathartic way of dealing with the tragedy that has unfolded with a transcendent legend? Or is this about how my father has mirrored how Kobe has conducted life post basketball with his daughters?
The very thing that wraps all this together was when a video was released a few weeks ago of Kobe Bryant teacher his daughter about plays during an NBA game. That daughter was Gianna, who also passed away during the helicopter crash.
My father was an athlete. I don’t think he’d be mad when I say his athletic ability didn’t really match up with that of Kobe’s. My father was able to take the knowledge he absorbed from the game and wanted to teach me about it. He’d take me out to a gym or outside in the cold, with the tips of my gloves cut off so I could grip the ball. When I was in a free throw competition, he’d be outside with, rebounding my shots with me so my routine at the line was not interrupted chasing my shots. I can’t think about any of these shared moments without thinking about what Kobe was doing for his daughter. Waking up early with her, becoming a mentor of the game for her, helping her horn her skills on the court, and being a loving father. Putting all of this into perspective is tough, thinking of my father as my own personal Kobe Bryant is devastating to think about. But also, it’s a good thing.
I don’t know how Kobe was like behind the scenes with his daughters. From the amount of information I have, we was a loving and caring individual who wanted nothing but the best from his daughters. Seeing Kobe be that role model of a father and seeing the likeness of that in my own father is astonishing.
Now, we won’t get that anymore from Kobe Bryant. We won’t get to see the loving father he had become. We won’t get to see the late night Instagram videos of him with Gigi, practicing with her.
But what we do have is our own fathers. Those moments that we have lost from Kobe and his daughter will live on through us and our fathers. Go out to the driveway today and play pickup with him.
Having someone who has been so present in my life and athletic life has been a blessing. Sharing these moments with my father, all of these basketball games we have watched will forever be special. If it weren’t for my dad waking me up at 2 am on August 24th, I never would’ve become a Kobe Bryant fan and witness the powerhouse he would become in the last 8 years of his career. So, watch as many NBA games as you can with your fathers. Talk about the game, practice your game with your father, cherish your favorite players, and most importantly, cherish your time with your fathers. Life is too short.
Walking, living legend, man we all feel like Kobe today.