Rest in Paradise
On January 13th, I only had ONE thing in mind when posting about Kobe Bryant and that was to pay homage to a man who played a significant role in my latter teen years (into early adulthood). I wanted to poke fun at how I tried to emulate him, how I saved every magazine featuring his face, how I'd watch every interview, but most importantly, how proud I was to see his name mentioned as one of the candidates for the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame. Little did I know on January 26th, just thirteen days after that post, Bryant, his daughter and seven other victims would be involved in a tragic helicopter crash out in the hills of Calabasas, CA, leaving their families and the rest of the world to mourn.
My eyes have poured out real tears for several days now. At times, I can't help myself. In fact, my vision is quite blurred as I type this - fighting through an overwhelming feeling of sadness taking over my soul. This sensation occurs whenever my mind wanders to that horrific day or when I catch a glimpse of Kobe's peers pouring their eyes out on national TV, or something simple, like staring at the photo above. This f*cking hurts.
I thought long and hard on whether I should even touch this story. After all, this is supposed to be a 'feel good' blog and it was only a couple of weeks ago where I was singing Kobe Bryant's praises. Now, here I am, sadly talking about this man's death. I cannot believe this; something is terribly wrong with that last sentence. To be frank, I find all of this extremely eerie. But I am a writer, writing has always been therapeutic and I desperate NEED to type: today, tomorrow, next week, so on and so forth. Whether it is read by one set of eyes or thousands. I have to do this or I am as good as done.
This whole ordeal doesn't seem real. It's almost like there was some sort of glitch in the matrix. Yes, we all die - it's a part of life and I completely understand. I lost my grandmother of 93 years back in September and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think of her. Although, I felt she could possibly live forever, 93 years is quite the accomplishment. But when we look at this tragedy on January 26th, Kobe lived to see 41, his daughter, 13. They were cheated at life and I won't feel otherwise.
Bryant and his daughter were on the cusp of transitioning to that 'next level' - post NBA Kobe as a husband, father, entrepreneur, Academy Award winner, author, coach/mentor, his daughter Gianna, as a superb 8th grade basketball talent just welcoming those challenging teenage years - quite possibly on the verge of becoming a highly sought after student-athlete. Its been well documented how Gianna took on her father's 'Mamba Mentality' so perhaps those teenage years would have been a breeze, but now we'll never know how far her talents would have taken her. The thought alone puts a lump in my throat.
I can't fathom the pain and devastation going through Kobe's wife, Vanessa, losing a husband and child on the same day, left to explain to their beautiful three girls that their father and sister are no longer here. My goodness. Let us also not forget the sting of the other families involved. This story is about as bad as it gets and I don't know if this numb feeling ever goes away.
The NBA All-Star Weekend begins in a few weeks and I am certain there will be a monumental ceremony commemorating Kobe Bryant's life. I've watched less and less of the All-Star festivities over the years and I will continue that trend in 2020. It is sure to be a tear jerker and there is simply no way I'll allow myself to endure that type of hurt. After experiencing a few heartbreaks in 2019 and now with this recent news, I think my eyes, mind, heart and soul could use a much needed break.
As words begin to escape me, it is probably best that I cut this short. But R.I.P. Kobe & Gianna Bryant and the other victims lost on that tragic day,
Spearheaded by a recent interview (and an amazing highlight clip) captivating my brain over a long weekend (where I was subjected to cold meds, Kleenex tissues and hot tea), I felt like sharing a story about my one-time fixation with the man featured in the picture above. No, I won't begin to bore you with overzealous stats and accolades by one of the greatest players of our generation (okay, maybe I will), nor will I share my opinion on where I feel Mr. Bryant ranks on the G.OA.T. list. Quite frankly, if he doesn't care about where he's placed on an opinion-based list (where there is really no true way of finding out who the best are), why should I? But what I will share, is how I unequivocally convinced myself I'd become the second-coming of one Mr. Kobe Bean Bryant, as we gear up for what could be his induction into the basketball Hall of Fame this summer.
Let's be perfectly clear: I wasn't all the way sold on this guy. In fact, at the onset of Kobe's NBA career (and somewhere along the middle), I couldn't stand him. I'll admit, there was a bit of jealously sprinkled in there. I mean, here was a kid, only a couple of years older than me, about to take the league by storm, insisting on playing for the LOS ANGELES LAKERS (as legend would have it, his party demanded an immediate trade from the Charlotte Hornets - the team who would draft him with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft - for the glitz and glamour of L.A.). The nerves of this guy!
Personally, I didn't think the Lakers needed Kobe or Shaquille O'Neal (a free agent at the time who also had his sights set on Hollywood). I'd grown fond of a young Lakers' team - dubbed 'The Lake Show' - led by the resurgence of the 1991 Slam Dunk champ Cedric Ceballos, the nifty Nick Van Exel, Vlade Divac and the ultra-talented Eddie Jones, who were all slowly making a name for themselves.
Why would they trade for some high school kid who could potentially steal minutes away from fan favorite, Eddie Jones, or worse, potentially hinder Kobe's growth?
Moreover, I didn't appreciate Bryant's blatant attempt at trying to become the next Michael Jordan (which he would vehemently deny); from his bald head (okay, so the bald head was quite stylish for black men during the early to mid 90s, but so what!), his on-court playing style (sprinkled in with a little streetball), the placement of his knee sleeve (even adding a slight fold to it like MJ), his mannerisms, down to sticking out his tongue when dunking the basketball... ala the one, the ONLY, the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan!
Bryant had seemingly entered the league with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, oozing a rare cockiness unseen from an unproven player. Who TF does this guy think he is? But my opinion of Kobe shifted following his '96-'97 rookie campaign, which ended with the Lower Merion H.S. product shooting multiple air balls down the stretch in a crucial playoff road game against the Utah Jazz; putting an end to the Lakers season. His critics grew overnight, unwilling to cut slack to a kid who carried the swagger of a 10-year vet, yet played like an 18 year-old when it mattered most. I genuinely felt bad for him, but the criticism had a reverse effect. During the summer of '97, he'd go through a transformation of sorts; growing out his hair (sporting a mini afro which I quickly gravitated towards), and despite being mocked, ridiculed and singled out as the player responsible for their loss to the Jazz in the prior season, he entered his 2nd season with a newfound confidence. Soon, he'd become the Lakers 6th man (first player typically called off of the bench), making an immediate impact. Fans at the old Great Western Forum- young and old, rose to their feet in unison upon Bryant's entrance into the game, as legendary Lakers P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter announced his name with his familiar monotone voice. Excitement grew, with scores of fans anticipating Bryant's flashy play, making the Lakers must-see-TV. It was an amazing spectacle for the 16 year-old me, watching the NBA on NBC telecast over the weekend, pondering the thought of whether I'd make it to the pros someday.
As Bryant's playing time grew, so did the bevy of supporters. Before long, the Lakers had a future star on their hands. I quickly took heed, growing my hair out to resemble Kobe's, recording every interview conducted; from in-game to late-night talk shows, EVEN purchasing a pair of ADIDAS sneakers (his sneaker sponsor at the time) for the first time in my life. As a lifelong Nike fan, that was HUGE! All for the allure of mirroring a dude I thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread (I'd pull this stunt twice before with a couple of NBA childhood heroes - Penny Hardaway and Scottie Pippen, but I was closer in age to Kobe, and found some other silly detail about him to justify my claim that I was his long lost bro).
Surprisingly, I didn't want to 'be like Mike' or play like Kobe. Orlando's version of Penny Hardaway, the Bulls Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson were the players I opted for anytime I stepped foot onto the court. However, 'rookie Kobe' was a clear underdog. I've always rooted for those types. Little did we know this "underdog" would go on to have an illustrious 20 year career which saw 5 NBA titles, a league MVP award, a couple of scoring titles and a crap load of All-Star appearances/All-Star MVP's. But the icing on the cake would have to be his candidacy into the Basketball Hall of Fame. We'll soon find out if he gets in (I would bet the house that he does), but here's to an amazing talent and an even amazing career, as I take a trip down memory lane.
Let's just say 2020 has gotten off to a pretty good start! Minus recent dental work (my 2nd root canal in less than a year - lucky me), I've had quite a few things to smile about. A renewed interest in blogging is one, followed by the possibilities of finally setting up a home office in the very near future (more on that in a later blog). But absolutely NOTHING has made me happier than spotting the return of Arby's fish sandwiches!
As I was driving home the other day, something took over me while passing an Arby's restaurant. Plastered in big, bold lettering across their drive-thru menu was a fish ad. Was I seeing things? Could it be?! YES!
Seemingly losing all control, like a madman in need of a fix, I promptly busted a U-Turn, tires screeching, entering the drive-thru...
Drive-thru voice: *Singing an Arby's Fish Sandwich Jingle*
Welcome to Arby's, can I take your order?
Me: Good Evening, can I please have two crispy fish sandwiches?
Drive-thru voice: I'm sorry, Sir, can you repeat that?
Me: Yes, two crispy fish sandwiches, that's all...
Drive-thru voice: *Inaudible sound*
Me: *Losing patience*
Drive-thru voice: I'm sorry, Sir, can you repeat that once more?
Me: *Sigh*... TWO CRISPY CHICKEN SANDWICHES, MAN!
Drive-thru voice: Two crispy chickens? Is that all?
Let's just say that exchange didn't go all too well, but I didn't allow my lack of patience to get the best of me. I left Arby's in total bliss - two crispy FISH sandwiches in tow and they were ALL MINE!
I would love an explanation as to why certain fast food chains only provide their most favorable sandwiches seasonally (cut that shit out!). I mean, is there some type of "fish shortage" from spring to December preventing Arby's from possibly depleting my bank account? Is there some type of "beef shortage" putting a stop to Mc Donald's selling their infamous McRib sandwich year round? (the McRib sounds gross, but plenty of people vouch for it). Can you imagine if Burger King experienced a "burger shortage?" Popeye's/KFC dealing with a "chicken shortage?" The whole world would go mad! But when Arby's fish sandwiches go M.I.A., not a single word. Somebody get Ving Rhames on the phone!
Okay, I'm done here.
Giving 2019 a Swift Kick in the A**
My apologies for leaving you all high & dry. I'll try to do better.
On a personal note, 2019 goes down as one of THE WORST years to date. There was the passing of my grandmother - which I don't think I'll ever truly get over - coupled with a few life changing events, but in hindsight, there were PLENTY of life lessons which I fully intend to carry forth into 2020 and beyond. Because as we all know, everything happens for a reason.
I am back in my happy place, meaning more content (check out my new YouTube page), more blogs (even if the current population HATES to read), and in due time, my 2nd book. I am not much of a 'Resolutions' guy; admittedly, I set goals DAILY, but I am truly optimistic that 2020 will be a joyous ride. Here's hoping you experience the same 🥂