Dear Kobe…

Hey, Kobe. It’s been a while. I just wanted to check in with you. The last time we spoke was inside the media room of STAPLES Center in 2019. What I remember about that evening was that it was pretty hectic with so many people pawing at you to get a selfie with you on their cellphone. And why wouldn’t they?

By then you had walked away from the grind of a 20-year career in the NBA.

You had become the ultimate cult champion here in Los Angeles. You had become a devoted husband and doting dad to four beautiful girls. You became known as a coach. Becoming the astute businessman and the giving philanthropist bore your nameplate. You successfully navigated post-basketball life into becoming an Academy Award winner.

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We were just getting to know you when you, Gianna and seven other beautiful souls made the transition from earthly vessels to a Heavenly place. It’s been a year, but the debilitating hurt we felt then is just as open and raw today. The words in this open letter cannot come close to telling you how much you mean to us, how much we miss you, and just how much we love you.

You were more than a basketball player to us. By every ounce of sweat that dripped from your body, you inspired us. Your drive to compete revealed to us who we are. You see, every time you drove to the basket or stepped back to make one of your patented jump shots you unveiled a question mark in us.

As we witnessed you living out your childhood dream that question turned into are we doing whatever it takes to fulfill our purpose in life? If we could, many of us would run through a door for you. But that’s not what you wanted. You wanted us to be the best that we could be.

We were as much part of you as you were part of us. You brought the City of Los Angeles five NBA championships. More than that you gave us your heart and soul. For 20 years, we rode shotgun with you through all the good and even the bad.

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After two decades of wearing the Purple and Gold, we didn’t always get you. On the flip side, I am quite sure there were plenty of times that you didn’t understand where we were coming from. Sometimes that’s how it is with any relationship. You can love someone but you may not always like that person.

But in the end, despite our differences and even our shortcomings, family always find a way to come back to embrace each other. For 20 years, you thrilled us with one spectacular play after another. You made the difficult look normal and routine. What may have been challenging for other laymen basketball players turned out to be simply a dip in the pool for you.

In your 20 unadulterated years of dazzle dribbles, peek-a-boo high-flying moves, crazy dunks, and lights out shooting, you proved to us and the rest of the world that your will to win was greater than your will to pick up a basketball and play. If I’m not mistaken I believe you called it the Mamba Mentality.

Night in and night out, you wore your determination on your sleeve. You were snarly if you needed to be. And when the moment called for it you somehow were always able to morph into this being called the Black Mamba. But Kobe we appreciate you so much more than being the best basketball player in a generation.  Our affinity for you goes well past your Hall of Fame credentials.

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What we most love about you was your humanity. You showed us you were human when you became exasperated at times by questions bombarded by eager media members. You showed us you cared when you would drive down and give pep talks to homeless youths in Hollywood. Your basketball camps were always packed with eager youths wanting to learn the game from you.

And yet there were other sides of you we did not see. What we did see we fell in love with. You were our inspirational billboard. See, what you showed us Kobe was that we all feel hurt. We get angry. We laugh. We cry. You showed us that the art of humility can teach us life lessons.

Many people love the adulation of you scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. And yet there are others who are still mesmerized by the sight of you throwing up that alley-oop pass to your former teammate Shaquille O’Neal to clinch a Game 6 victory and your first NBA title against Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.

Once you had climbed the mountaintop of a dynasty after leading the Lakers to three straight titles with O’Neal, you then had the audacity to win two championship rings on your own just to solidify your status as one of the game’s all-time great. We miss all of that. But more importantly, we miss you. You became our hero. You still are.

We miss that incredible smile of yours. That smile of yours was so warm and inviting that it could melt a mother’s heart and warm up some biscuits at the same time. That’s because behind all of that tough exterior was a man who made it a habit of conveying to the invisible that you saw them. You made it a point to make sure you saw me. And for that, I am eternally thankful.

But that’s the way you were. I didn’t have all the access to you like other reporters did. I wasn’t close to you like a lot of people were. I pretty much didn’t think you ever noticed me at all to tell you the truth. But I remember one day after a practice you were getting your haircut. I was walking out of the building and didn’t think you even noticed me, but you did.

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You calmly reached out your right arm out from under the barber’s chair cloth and stuck out your balled up hand in a pump fist salute. Of course, I reciprocated the unexpected gesture. There was nothing more or less from that exchange that day, just an acknowledgment of kindness from someone who didn’t think that I was invisible.

This is not going to do a whole lot on the Richter scale of earth-shattering moments for a lot of people. For someone like me who has always battled low-self esteem and depression, something birthed out of childhood trauma, your quiet outreach that day was more than a blessing. You were a global icon at that time. You didn’t have to do what you did. You did it anyway.

And in the few other private interactions that I was fortunate to have with you, Kobe you always managed to make me feel welcomed by giving me a simple hug. That’s just who you were. I have never been a person to be star-struck or in awe of any man. I don’t worship people. What I saw in you was a man, a beautiful spirit who had the God-given gift to touch millions of lives. You touched mine and I will be forever grateful.

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