Kobe Bryant “The Black Mamba”
Who`s Kobe Bryant to me?
A sports fan who found Bryant difficult to root for during his basketball career grapples with the pain, and regret, he feels in the wake of his death.
I was in a CVS in Harlem when I first heard the news. My friend James, who rarely, if ever, talks about sports, had sent me a one-word text message: “Kobe?”
He said people were saying that Kobe Bryant had died. I shrugged it off. I figured it was just a false alarm or a joke. But then I asked myself: Why would he joke about Kobe dying?
Kobe had come into the league just in time to step into the gap created when Michael Jordan retired, for the second time, in 1999. Growing up, I wasn’t a Jordan fan. Year after year, it was the same thing. Every June, the announcers Bob Costas and Marv Albert would utter the same eight words: “The Chicago Bulls are the 19__ N.B.A. champions.” Just insert the year.
At some point after the 1996 finals, when the Bulls dominated a really talented SuperSonics team and Jordan won his fourth title, I finally conceded: I don’t like this guy, but he’s surely the best I’ve ever seen.
During his playing career, the heirs apparent were many but none ever quite panned out. Kendall Gill, Jerry Stackhouse, Harold Miner and so many others didn’t live up to the hype but were good players in their own right.
And then came Kobe.
The teenager straight out of high school. The N.B.A. couldn’t have asked for someone better. Kobe was brand-friendly, cookie cutter, global and he avoided issues of race. Not only did he mimic Jordan’s game on the court but he also borrowed from his playbook in life and the media. He was the natural progression from Jordan. He was the heir.
But I couldn’t relate to him. Kobe was a guy who looked like me and was my age but definitely didn’t grow up like me. I didn’t like him. I was the kid from the hood and I could smell that he was the kid who was not from there at all. His dad had played professional basketball — in Italy. And then he went to a good high school on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
He wasn’t me.
But as I looked around CVS in Harlem that Sunday, everything had come to a standstill. When I stepped outside onto 125th Street, one of the busiest stretches in New York City, it was as if all of the air had been sucked out of the sky. It was quiet. Everyone was looking down at their phones. Not just African-Americans but people of all races. Tourists. Residents. Everyone. And the first thing I thought about — besides questioning how Kobe could die — was how negatively I had been texting about him just a few days earlier with my friend Eric.”