Some pro athletes – and they know who they are – despise the media. They look at us as if we are an enemy of some sort.
Kobe Bryant was not one of those people.
In my numerous interactions with Kobe during his 20-year NBA career, he was always gracious, always polite, always thought-provoking. He was basketball royalty and a pleasure to interview.
I remember when Kobe had already announced that the 2015-’16 season was going to be his last season. And I remember looking at the Dallas Mavericks’ schedule and seeing that their final game against Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers was on Jan. 26, 2016 – ironically four years to the day that Kobe died in a tragic helicopter crash.
Four years ago today was going to be the last time Kobe played against Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki. I recalled writing multiple stories hyping up that game.
However, Kobe was injured and unfortunately could not play. But I asked John Black, then the media relations director for the Lakers, if Kobe would at least give me and then-Dallas Morning News beat writer Eddie Sefko an interview before the game so we could discuss his many battles against Nowitzki.
Black left the Laker locker room to ask Kobe about the interview request, then came back moments later and said to wait right here and Kobe would indeed do the interview in 10 minutes.
Understand, the average pro athlete – especially one of Kobe’s stature – would have told us to take a hike. But Kobe was special.
On Kobe’s passing, the Mavs released a statement from proprietor Mark Cuban saying: “We are shocked and saddened by the devastating news of the passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Kobe was an ambassador for our game, a decorated legend and a global icon.
“Above all, he was a loving and dedicated father. Kobe’s legacy transcends basketball, and our organization has decided that the number 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick.”
There’s a reason why folks all across the world are hurting right now, trying to process how someone so full of life could suffer such an incomprehensible death at the tender age of 41. Kobe touched so many lives in a positive way.
Last month when the Mavs were playing the Lakers in LA, Mavs point guard Luka Doncic was getting ready to inbounds the ball and didn’t realize Kobe was sitting nearby. Luka then noticed someone trash-talking him in Slovenian.
It was Kobe, who was at the game with his daughter, Gianna, who wanted to meet Luka.
After that game, I spoke to Bryant and asked him how he was enjoying retirement. That was my last conversation with one of the greatest athletes to ever live.
But I remember one time when Kobe’s super human exploits led him to put one of the most dominating performances I’ve ever witnessed. In a Dec. 20, 2005 game against the Mavs, Kobe personally outscored the Mavs, 62-61, after three quarters.
A lot of today’s kids have patterned their game after Kobe. He was this generation’s Michael Jordan, a man who had the power to dominate a game, who could make any defense look silly.
Those who grew up watching Kobe play in the NBA were inspired by his ability to maintain a tunnel vision type approach to the game, and by his ability to take over games. He truly was one of a kind — and a man gone too soon.
“Our hearts go out to all the lives lost and the families impacted by this terrible tragedy,” Cuban said in the Mavs’ statement. “We send our thoughts and prayers to Vanessa and the family, the Lakers organization and Kobe Bryant fans everywhere.”