Usually, when the word ‘just’ is used it is often seen as a reductive descriptor of one’s character, in this case, the word just made Kobe Bryant closer to us. On August 23, 1978, I sat next to my middle son’s bassinet and stared down at my then 7-month old and wondered what his future would be. On that same day, two-hundred-fifty miles north in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Joe and Pamela Bryant stared down at their newly born son, Kobe, and probably had the same dreams, fears and aspirations my wife and I felt. Kobe was the product of a basketball lineage, his Dad is former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and his maternal uncle John “Chubby” Cox was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1978, the year Kobe was born. I was a fan of the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) who were the defending 77-78 NBA Champions, my son, to my sorrow, never was. As he grew, ironically or poetically, my middle son was a fan of the team that drafted Kobe’s uncle, the Chicago Bulls. Although Kobe was his literal contemporary he understandably was a fan of Michael Jordan. Later we would find that Kobe was even a bigger fan of MJ. He entered the NBA emulating his hero right down to the signature tongue poke Jordan displayed as he slashed to the basket. Like my son, Kobe became his own man, but neither lessened their love for Michael’s game. Even as Jordan left the Bulls and languished, in his waning years, with the fallen franchise of my youth, the now Wizards, I got to see a legend, even if diminished, wear my team colors. Although these events may seem a bit coincidental, convoluted or incongruent, it was all connected when my phone rang at 2:00 pm yesterday afternoon. My son who barely emits a whimper at the saddest of occasions called me, with his voice obviously breaking, and told me he had heard in a report from TMZ that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash. My own hand shook and tightly gripped the phone because I had just listened to an interview given by LeBron James relaying his feelings of passing Bryant on the all-time NBA scoring list. James had waxed eloquently about Kobe not only as a player but as a role model and man.
There was an eerie forbearance in Mr. James’ manner and delivery, maybe it was because they had just suffered a loss to the 76ers or maybe… During that call from my middle son, my oldest son called to give me the news but with a sound in his voice hoping that I would tell him it was not so. I had watched my two boys battle on basketball courts against and with each other. My oldest pushing his younger sibling to be like Magic [Johnson] his generational hero. The younger wanted to “be like Mike.” When Michael retired Kobe became his guy, he would kick his leg out on jump shots and bend the corner on his drive to the basket just like Kobe. I am saddened by the death of Kobe and the loss of his daughter Gigi. My sons’ firstborns are also daughters. Kobe left a legacy of good works, good parenting, charitable deeds and art. I now ironically live in the city of Kobe’s birth, Philadelphia, and the pall in the town is unmistakable. Goodbye Kobe, I hope my sons live out their lives ‘just’ like you.