Tag Archives: Kobe Bryant

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant, a brilliant basketball player but very flawed human. And the Grammy awards as always, delight and confuse me

The texts came in almost simultaneously around 2:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon, from my cousin Robby and my buddy Jeff.

One just said “Kobe Bryant,” and the other said “News is reporting Kobe just died in a helicopter crash.”

Shocked, stunned, in disbelief: I just kind of stared at the phone for a minute, one of those moments where you’re looking at words and you’re not really sure what you’re reading is real.

But of course it is. Forty-one year old Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the 10 greatest basketball players who ever laced up a pair of sneakers, died in a plane crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Sunday outside Calabasas, Calif.

So many thoughts to process, and I will try to be coherent with this post but no guarantees. I’m also quite certain I’m going to anger some of you with some of what I’m going to write.

OK, first, it’s an absolute tragedy that 41-year-old man in the prime of his life was killed in an accident, and his beautiful 13-year-old daughter as well.

From all accounts, since his retirement in 2016 Kobe has been a terrific father to his children, and has done numerous philanthropic and educational projects, as well as writing children’s books that have sold very well.

And on the basketball court… he was unbelievable. From the time he came into the NBA straight out of high school, he was clearly an unmatched talent.

He could score against anybody, at any time, and was the most cold-blooded competitor of the post-Jordan era. The sheer range of his offensive abilities, from outside shooting, driving, dunking, to any other way you could score, was amazing.

He was such a willful assassin on the court, willing to cut your heart out and work harder, longer, than anybody else. The stories of his dedication to the sport are legion, and he should absolutely be admired for so much of what he did on the court, winning five championships (three with Shaquille O’Neal, two without him, which is even more impressive) for the Lakers.

He will go down as one of the all-time legends of the sport, and it is an unspeakable tragedy that he’s gone, so young, when he had so much more living to do, and perhaps so much more to give to the world.

Now… I do believe we’re all capable of holding two thoughts in our heads at the same time. And I also don’t believe that when a person dies suddenly, at such a young age, it doesn’t mean we have to forget and wash away everything negative about them and simply celebrate only the good.

So there are some other aspects of Kobe Bryant that can, and should, be a part of his obituary, and his legacy.

In July, 2003, Kobe Bryant allegedly raped a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo. The sheriff’s department arrested him, had lots of evidence to bring him to trial, and after a torrent of negative publicity and harassment of his victim, she decided not to continue with the criminal charges, and settled out of court in a civil case for an undisclosed amount from Bryant.

From everything I have read about the case, it is overwhelmingly clear that Kobe did commit rape. And the fact that he got away with it, and ruined a young woman’s life while getting to continue his career, should never, ever be forgotten. He never admitted guilt, and got to continue his life as a worldwide celebrity who is adored by millions.

There are also legions of stories about Kobe being a complete jerk to his teammates, including Shaq, and refusing to compromise or put aside his ego for anything or anybody, and that, ultimately, is what led to the breakup of the Lakers.

I write these last few paragraphs not to tear down someone who just died, but simply to remind that we are all human, who make mistakes galore (I know I have made more than my share) and that all of it, the good and the bad, should be remembered when thinking about the life of Kobe Bean Bryant.

He was an icon, and a very flawed human being. We needn’t forget any of his life. He’ll be remembered forever as an incredible talent who we sports fans were fortunate to get to witness.

Rest in peace, Kobe and Gianna. You both had so much more living to do.

**And finally today, my annual “Get off my Lawn” thoughts on the Grammy Awards, where I try to make sense of current music while celebrating artists from the past who I’m lucky enough to see and recognize on this year’s Grammys.

Of course, this year they were airing live from the Staples Center, the arena Kobe Bryant called his home for most of his basketball career, so from Lizzo’s opening words “This is for Kobe” the Grammys had a definite Kobe vibe to them.

— Lizzo is probably very talented and seems to be loved by millions. But I just don’t get her, or her music. But she does seem to be a hell of a performer.

— Any chance I get to see or hear Boyz II Men again, I’m happy. Their song tribute to Kobe, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with Alicia Keys that helped open the show was fabulous.

— Shania Twain looked like a glittery disco ball and I love her so I’m not going to criticize but damn, that was not a good look.

— Alicia Keys is straight-up awesome. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s got an amazing voice, and I want her to host more stuff. She was terrific Sunday night.

— From Ariana Grande’s performance and many others, it seems clothes were mostly optional for Grammy performers.

— Absolutely loved the Aerosmith/Run DMC reunion collaboration on “Walk This Way.” That will always be an amazing song, and I say this not just because when I was 12 I “performed” a version of this with my friend Erik during our summer camp talent show. We nailed it.

— The Lil’ Nas X performance of “Old Town Road” was bizarre but entertaining. I think that song has now been played four million times on the radio.

 

Good News Friday: Kobe’s relationship with his H.S. English teacher is awesome. “The 12 Pains of Christmas” always makes me smile. And a Canada children’s choir singing song in Arabic

at Verizon Center on December 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

And a happy Friday to you all! We’re between Chanukah and Christmas and year-end lists are flying around like insults out of Donald Trump’s mouth.  Sad to report that it looks like one of my favorites, the Regrettheerror.com list of the best and funniest newspaper and magazine corrections of the year, is no longer. Seems the guy running it, Craig Silverman, got a new job and has shuttered his annual roundup. Bummer.

However, three happy stories to lead you into the weekend, where hopefully you won’t be stuck at a mall shopping… (and a fourth story that I’m not writing about simply because I could write about LeBron James’ kindness and generosity every week, and that would get boring. But what he did for a disabled fan in Boston the other night… so great.

First up, I’ve heard some fabulous radio stories over the years from Bill Littlefield’s wonderful NPR program “Only a Game,” but this one from last week’s show has to be among my favorites. You may remember a few weeks ago that Kobe Bryant, in announcing his retirement from the NBA following this season, wrote a poem called “Dear Basketball” and published it on Derek Jeter’s website, The Player’s Tribune.

Well, in seeking to find out where Kobe’s poetry inspiration came from, Littlefield tracked down his old high school English teacher from Lower Merion, Pa., a delightful woman named Jeanne Mastriano.

This seven-minute interview is just terrific, especially when Mastriano talks about the voicemail she left Kobe during the NBA Finals one year, and the stunning impact it had on him.

Can’t praise this short piece enough; listen to it here. I’m not a huge Kobe fan but anyone who loves his English teacher that much can’t be all bad.

**Next up, here’s a story that’s not quite as perfect as first thought when it went viral, but still pretty awesome.

A children’s choir in Canada performed an Arabic song called Tala’ al-Badru Alayna, which was sung by Prophet Muhammad’s companions to welcome him as he sought refuge in Medina. The beautiful performance went viral as it was shared as a welcoming event for refugees in Canada while the country was getting ready for the second group of refugees.

But… not quite. Recent reports suggested that the choir and the song did not have anything to do with welcoming the refugees, it was just something the choir director had wanted to perform for a long time.

Still, it’s a beautiful performance and should indeed be a sign that some countries (not America, apparently, but SOME countries) understand the meaning of compassion and welcoming in those who have suffered so much in recent years.

 

**And finally today, I try to run this song every year on the blog around the holidays because it always makes me smile. It’s an old song parody from the Bob Rivers Group, it’s called the “12 Things at Christmas that are such a pain to me.” I laugh, not exaggerating, every time I hear it. Especially, of course, at the “rigging up the lights guy.”

Enjoy, and take a deep breath, the holidays and the stress will be over soon…

An amazing ESPN movie about the O.J. chase. An abominable Game 7. And Sarah, oh Sarah.

Before 9/11, it was my generation’s “Where were you when it happened?” moment.

June 17, 1994. Early evening. My father and I are watching Game 5 of the New York Knicks-Houston Rockets NBA Finals series, and all of a sudden, NBC News breaks in and shows us O.J. Simpson, in a white Ford Bronco, fleeing police on a California highway, with a gun to his head in the backseat.

It was unbelievable, the first live reality TV show. It changed everything about how the media covers news, about how we see celebrities, and about how voracious our appetites are for controversy. (Side note: Can you freaking imagine if the Internet was around during the O.J. trial/chase? We think the hysteria was nuts then, it would’ve been nothing compared to what it would be now!)

ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series has been lavishly praised by me before, but they’ve outdone themselves with Wednesday night’s “June 17, 1994” film. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

That was a historic day in sports, with so much going on, as the movie details. Arnold Palmer played his last round of golf in a major. The New York Rangers held their first Stanley Cup parade in 54 years. The World Cup started in the U.S. The Knicks and Rockets played Game 5.

But of course, O.J. was the biggest thing of all, and the movie focuses on him. The brilliant touch of the director, Brett Morgen, is that there are no talking heads or commentators looking back on the day from 16 years later; the whole one-hour movie is comprised of clips from that day.

There’s some fantastic off the air footage of NBC’s Bob Costas and others, completely flummoxed about how to handle this situation. Hilarious moments, like when NBC’s Tom Brokaw, while talking about O.J. pulling up to his Brentwood house, slipping in the score of the Knicks-Rockets game for fans.

But the best part of the movie, for me, anyway, was the long excerpts of the phone conversation between O.J. and LAPD detective Tom Lange. Lange pleads with O.J. to throw the gun out the car, while Simpson cries and begs to be allowed to end his life.  It’s amazing footage (here’s a link to some of the transcript of the call).

I immediately ordered “June 17, 1994” on DVD from Amazon after seeing this film. I want to be able to answer my grandkids when they study the O.J. Bronco chase in history class one day by saying “Watch this. This is what really happened.”

The documentary is on again Saturday at 12:30 p.m on ESPN2, and again on June 30 at 11 p.m. on ESPN2 . Watch it or DVR it; you’ll be glad you did.

**I’m not an NBA fan. I frankly haven’t cared much about these playoffs, save for a few teams that I like watching (Phoenix) and of course, my man LeBron James.
I’ve watched very little of the Finals, like, maybe 10 minutes total. But still, as a sports fan and a sports journalist, I felt obligated to watch the second half of Game 7 between the Celtics and Lakers.

Good God, what an abominable display of basketball. Missed shots, bad foul shooting, bad passes, everything. I know Game 7s are sometimes like this, because both teams are so nervous and so amped up. But this was, like, Knicks-Heat mid-1990s bad.
I couldn’t root for either team, because I hate Kobe Bryant (the unconvicted rapist) so much, and thanks to my New York DNA, I can’t ever really root for Boston.
I guess I should congratulate the Lakers, but my heart’s not into it. Damn you, Kobe.

***I try. I really, really try not to pay attention to Sarah Palin. But it’s hard sometimes, especially when three of my friends email me the YouTube link below, her interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly Tuesday night.

Seriously, can someone translate what she’s saying for me? I watched it twice and I truly think she’s a robot just spouting words when people push buttons on her stomach.

I ripped O’Reilly the other day, but I have to give him some props here: He seems as confused by Palin’s unintelligible speaking as the rest of us. And he does try to press her a little:

Michael Vick on “60 Minutes:” I believe him. Also, Usain Bolt is crazy fast.

 Vick14_173701gm-a

It’s always dangerous to look into another man’s heart. (I’ve also learned it’s dangerous to tell a woman she has too many pairs of shoes, to ask a rampaging bull to kindly slow down, and to cut a dinner roll with a huge, sharp knife. But I digress).

We don’t ever really know what’s going on in somebody’s head, what their motives are, and if someone who has committed some truly awful crimes is really repentant.

As a fairly cynical sportswriter, I feel like I have a pretty good “phony” radar for athletes. It goes off every time Terrell Owens or Kobe Bryant speaks, for example.

But watching Michael Vick on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, I’ve gotta say that I was truly impressed. I thought Vick came across as sincere, humble, and pretty broken up about what he had done.

Now, I’m sure he was coached by his p.r. people. But I think there was too much real emotion on display for it to be all fake. I liked when James Brown (who did a surprisingly good job as the interviewer; boy would I have liked to see Mike Wallace grill Vick) asked the disgraced dog-fighting kingpin whose fault all his problems were.

“I blame me,”Vick said … “I deserved to lose the $130 million (NFL contract).”

“Yeah, I deserve to lose it,” Vick continued. I deserve to lose the $130 million. Why would a guy who was making a $130 million and, you know, on the flip side, you know, killing dogs or doing the wrong things, why would– you know, he don’t — he don’t deserve it.”

I also was watching Vick’s face closely while Brown read off some of the horrendous details of what Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels did to the poor animals. Vick seemed to be visibly wincing. I got the feeling that every time he relives what he did to the dogs, he feels pain. Which is very good, because he should feel pain.

Vick talked a lot about the “disgust” he felt about himself, and for the entire interview he seemed like a guy who knew just how royally he screwed up his life.

I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t think the ex-Falcons quarterback should’ve gotten a chance to play in the NFL again. But this America, and we give people second chances.

I have no idea if Michael Vick will really do everything he can to educate black and rural kids that dogfighting is wrong, and they should steer clear of it. But he deserves the opportunity to prove that prison changed him, and so far, he seems like a different man.

Good for him if he really has changed. He can do so much more good after falling from grace than he ever could’ve done when he was on top of the mountain.

Couple other thoughts on the “60 Minutes,” piece, whose transcript is here.

**I thought James Brown did an outstanding job, journalistically; much better than I was expecting.

** The most revealing part of the piece for me was when Vick talked about how, as a little kid, he saw dogfighting and thought it was OK. And that opinion was reinforced when, he recalled, some local policemen in Virginia pulled up to a dogfight one night, got out of their cars, then drove away.

In no way shape or form is it an excuse, but kids learn what they see at that age. 

P.S. Hell of a day in sports Sunday, on the whole. Usain Bolt, who is so fast he makes lightning look slow, set a new world record by running a 9.58 in the 100 meter dash in Berlin. That’s .009 seconds faster than Bolt’s old world record, which is a huge gap in a small race like this. (By the way, is there a more perfect name for a sprinter than “Bolt?”). This kid from Jamaica is making a mockery of all past sprinters; he’s just on a whole different playing field than anyone, ever, in his event.

Check out the incredible Bolt race here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0wmR3gic5I

 And although I loathe golf with all my being, I see Tiger Woods was chased down from behind by someone named Y.E. Yang and blew the PGA Championships on Sunday. Mr. Woods shot a 75, and Yang shot a 70.
 

 

Tiger Woods getting caught from behind in the last round of a major? Never happened before, and may never happen again.

One more reason sports is the greatest reality television of all time.