LOS ANGELES – The moment first made me feel nostalgic. Now, it just makes me weep.
Only 10 days ago, I visited Kobe Bryant’s office to learn more about how he has adapted from his NBA career toward overseeing a story-telling production company (Granity) and a training center (Mamba Sports Academy). Only three days ago, Bryant and I exchanged messages about the published stories and offered each other well wishes.
Who knew that would be Bryant’s last sit-down interview? Who knew that would be the last time I would ever hear from him? I struggled accepting that reality when Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning en route to an AAU basketball game. So did Bryant’s surviving family with his wife Vanessa and three other daughters (17-year-old Natalia, three-year-old Bianka and newborn Capri). So did the past and present Lakers that either adored him, or that at least respected him. So did the countless Lakers fans that cheered for him.
Therefore, how I feel about Bryant’s tragic death at age 41 is neither unique nor significant. Sure, I enjoyed his give-and-take. I respected that he judged those in my profession mostly on the quality of our questions and work ethic. And I appreciated he tested a reporters’ willingness to confront him with tough questions because he usually showed more respect to the ones that did.
But there will be far more important tributes from Bryant’s family, the Lakers and his high school alma mater (Lower Merion). What they think matters far more than a sportswriter that covered Bryant as a Lakers blogger with The Los Angeles Times (2010-2012) and a Lakers beat writer with the Los Angeles Daily News (2012-17).
Nonetheless, I bring up my last interview with Bryant because it offered a window into his current mindset. Bryant appeared incredibly at peace with his NBA career. He also seemed motivated to make his second act just as memorable. And that is what makes his unexpected death even more tragic. Not only did Bryant have so much more of his life to live. He had so much more of his life to give.
“You got to do what you love to do,” Bryant said. “I love telling stories. I love inspiring kids or providing them with tools that are going to help them.”
Therefore, Bryant no longer seemed as consumed as he once was with the NBA world.
Bryant often considered any season that did not end in a championship parade to be a failure. Yet, he sounded secure with his five NBA rings, his two Finals MVPs and his one regular-season MVP. Bryant sought to become the NBA’s best player and never backed down from competition. Yet, Bryant sounded incredibly gracious toward LeBron James before he eventually surpassed him for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He considered it “juvenile” to think otherwise.
Instead, Bryant seemed more obsessed with other accolades. He admitted that it meant more to him that he won an Oscar, Sports Emmy and Annie Award for his short film, “Dear Basketball” than anything he did on the hardwood. Bryant appeared encouraged that his production company will release its fourth sports fantasy book on March 31, that his “Punies” podcast planned for a third season and that he had complete freedom over his “Details” series on ESPN+ that focused more on X’s and O’s and less on hot takes.
Bryant did not view these benchmarks as milestones. He viewed them as pitstops. Just like it took time for Bryant to blossom in the NBA during his first few seasons, he seemed to think about his newest profession through the same lens.
“Our challenge now is taking books and making them into films, feature films and in series, some of which will be animated, some of which will be live action,” Bryant said. “So it's figuring out how to do that, while understanding that owning the intellectual property is absolutely essential. And so that's our challenge. It's fun to figure out the journey but also extremely frustrating because things don't move as fast as you want them to. But that's okay.”
Tragically, Bryant will not have the chance to figure out how to remain patiently persistent with these projects as he did during his NBA career. Tragically, Bryant will not have the chance to show he can still remain connected to the game while still becoming more detached from it.
Bryant maintained he had “zero” involvement with the Lakers. But Bryant still would have loved talking informally with Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, general manager Rob Pelinka and any players. Bryant did not want to attend every Lakers game. But he would have loved sitting courtside with Gianna during the Lakers’ possible championship run for the first time since he won one against the hated Boston Celtics in 2010. Bryant may feel comfortable with his NBA legacy. But he would have loved to give his Hall-of-Fame speech. Bryant seemed more apathetic about NBA box scores. But he would have loved to help NBA players informally and at his training facility.
Bryant did all these things for the past four years by mastering two potentially conflicting philosophies. He kept a disciplined routine that often entailed reporting to his office at 7 a.m. He also remained flexible with his itinerary so he could coach Gianna and enjoy the free time he rarely had as an NBA player.
“It's been great, man,” Bryant said. “I got a chance to spend so much time with my family and largely control my own schedule.”
That partly explained why Bryant often used a helicopter. He traveled to practice and games that way both to preserve his time and legs. Tragically, that is the vehicle that cut his schedule way too short. So even if Kobe Bryant accomplished so much on this Earth, I cannot help but wonder what could have been had he stayed here even longer.
Bryant appeared to have all the answers in his last sit-down interview, and it left me feeling inspired. Nearly 10 days later, that interview just leaves me feeling sad.
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