LOS ANGELES-Welcome back, Black Mamba. NBA megastar Kobe Bryant is used to eye-gawking and jaw-dropping wherever he goes.
So when the Los Angeles Lakers star and his wife Vanessa decided to come out and sit in on the Drew League championship game at King Drew Medical Magnet High School in South Los Angeles, the place erupted into lots of aahs, plenty of oohs and a great amount of attention.
Kobe has always had a flair for the dramatic. His entrance into the King-Drew gymnasium right before tipoff of the first quarter of the game between Hank’s Blazers and Kings of LA was more than that. It stopped the presses. Everything moving in the gym came to a sudden and erupt halt when the King of LA and Vanessa Bryant made their way to their courtside seats.
All eyes were on Kobe. The buzz in the building was so electric with Kobe’s arrival and subsequent stay that even NBA ballers Ryan Hollins, Amir Jonson and Dorell Wright recognized the importance of the five-time NBA champion showing up to lend his support to the Drew League.
Hollins, the backup center for the Los Angeles Clippers, said having a player of Kobe’s magnitude and stature come out means a lot to those in the immediate community.
“For fans, it’s great for the city to see that,” Hollins said. “He (Kobe Bryant) means so much to this city that to the kids and to the people out here to represent…they get a chance to see that experience. A lot of people can’t afford tickets to Lakers games, so they get to see Kobe, they get to see guys like myself, Dorell (Wright) and Amir (Johnson) play in a gym like this. It’s great for the community.”
One of the flying mottos around the gymnasium is that you never know who you’re going to see when you come down to the Drew League. That is a very factual statement. You have actors like “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan, WNBA player Tina Thompson and other celebrities making their way to catch a game or two at the annual Drew League, celebrating its 40th year in existence.
Sponsored and presented by Nike, the Drew League has grown from a ragtag summer basketball league for local hoopsters into a special place to be. For the last couple of years, high-profile NBA players have been regular participants in now what is considered to be probably the hottest summer basketball tournaments.
The NBA lockout in 2011 forced NBA players to fine-tune their games in summer and rec league basketball leagues across the country. The Drew League benefited from the NBA’s work stoppage as Kobe, LeBron James Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony hit the hardwood floor in Watts. So this wasn’t the first time around for Kobe.
The last time fans of the Drew League saw Kobe in their backyard, Bryant promptly hit a three-point shot to win a ballgame. Fast forward to 2013. It would have been sensational for Kobe to have played in the Drew League this year.
But because he is still rehabbing his torn left Achilles tendon that he injured near the end of the regular 2012-2013 NBA season, Kobe showed up as a spectator this time around. But whether he’s playing or chilling and catching a game, Kobe is always the center of attention.
For the Drew League, which seems to attract the best of the best of NBA players, that is a good thing. While Kobe’s presence stole the show, the scrappy bunch called Hank’s Blazers outdueled the Kings of LA 104-99 in a breathtaking final game. Just like the previous weeks of competition, the Drew League finality was good as advertised.
Hollins and his teammates had built almost insurmountable lead going into the further before Johnson and Wright got their act together to lead the Kings of LA to a furious comeback to make the final score close. But it was a matter of coming to the party too late.
But the big story of the evening, of course, was the appearance of Kobe Bryant, which brought a lot of cheer from the fans. The man officially known as Clipper Darrell even joined in on the party, posing for photos with Kobe. Clipper Darrell said regardless of what team you support you have to recognize and acknowledge greatness when you see it.
“People embrace Kobe,” Clipper Darrell said. “I don’t care who they are. This the Lakers town. The Clippers are coming up…Kobe is a good dude. If you weren’t at the Drew League today…you missed Kobe Bryant.”