I can’t remember exactly when but I can remember exactly where; my Uncles house in Dundee with my cousin Stuart. I can’t recall how it came about, but I’m guessing it was around about the time I was playing basketball for the school house team, and as my cousin also played it’s possible we’d been talking about that. I had started to realise that I wasn’t too bad at basketball, helped by a growth spurt no doubt, and it was fast becoming my favoured sport to play given my basic footballing skills.
My cousin had a VHS tape of an NBA game, and he put it on so we could watch it. Looking back I’m guessing it was an older recording yet there I sat, utterly transfixed as the amazing athletes played the game that I knew yet which they made appear so much more dynamic and exciting. A man called Magic bamboozled the opponents and passed to a man called Kareem who turned sideways and, leaping away from the basketball, sort of rolled the ball up and out and over his defender, a looping shot that was his trademark. I didn’t realise it just then but I’d just seen a classic move from two of the all-time great players; Magic Johnson with a no-look pass to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with an unstoppable skyhook.
I too was hooked. The showtime Lakers were my first NBA team and have remained that way – despite a brief flirtation with the Chicago Bulls when a certain Michael Jordan came along – through thick and thin.
Suffice to say that the news that broke late last night was a shock.
As part of the next generation of dominant Lakers teams, alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant was one of those players that everyone loved, even if they loved to hate him. He had a skill-set that meant whilst he never dominated entire games, he was still able to control them and make plays that beggared belief. He was fierce, opinionated, and very driven.
He was the type of player that made most things look mundane, and the hard things look easy, and his passion kept him a level above many other players. He truly was one of the greatest to ever play the game.
I followed Kobe on Twitter and Instagram for a long time, and as he retired he started to explore other passions with the same fervour. He was also a proud father, and the news saddens even further hearing that his daughter Gina died with him.
What a tragedy for that family. What a loss to endure.
RIP Kobe Bryant.
Addendum 28/01/20: I did myself, and others, a disservice by not speaking to the darker side of Kobe, the side which was accused of raping a young woman. From other interviews since that happened, particularly after he retired, it certainly seemed like he was learning to be a better man and was aware of his faults. Does that excuse what he allegedly did, absolutely not. I don’t know what happens if you turn back time, but some would say it would lead to justice and in my heart I’d have to agree.