In 2016, I met a real life superhero. Standing outside the locker room of the Los Angeles Lakers, deep within the bowels of Staples Center, I patiently waited for him.
As a kid born and raised in Los Angeles, I idolized Kobe Bryant. Similar to millions of other kids of my generation, I had to have the Kobe jersey (both 8 and 24), the Kobe sneakers, and the Lakers gear. I mimicked his moves and tried to develop the Mamba Mentality.
Kobe always encouraged others to follow their passions and dreams, to "love what you do," and put all your hardwork and effort into it. It was because of him, and that message, that I changed career paths as an adult and became a sports writer.
Over the years, I've been blessed to see and interview Kobe countless times. He grew more generous and loquacious in the later years of his career, and I grabbed every opportunity I could to soak up one of the many stories of his illustrious 20-years in the NBA.
However, in all the times I was around him, usually pointing a microphone or recorder at his face, I never garnered the confidence or psyche to pull him aside and have a private conversation with him.
So after the Lakers penultimate home game of the 2015-2016 season, just days before the fireworks of the final game of his Hall of Fame career, I decided to muster up the courage and talk to him.
I followed him as he walked to his car and formerly introduced myself. I told him that I wanted to let him know that it was because of him that I decided to pursue my dreams as a sports writer, and that I wouldn't be where I was in life without him.
Most people might politely say thank you, or nod and say "that's great," but not Kobe. Kobe stopped in his path and put his arm around me. "Thank you for telling me. That means a lot to me," he said. "Keep up that Mamba Mentality." Needless to say, that moment meant a lot more to me than it did to him.
Like most of the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news on Sunday morning that Kobe, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others had died in a helicopter crash just miles from my home. I went to the crash site, hoping the news wasn't true, that I would wake up from this nightmare.
Since the moment I saw the smoke rise from the ashes of the wreck, I've been speechless and depressed. Typically, writing is therapeutic and helps me process, but I have been unable to find the words to write this. Kobe's tragedy has sparked a lot of grief and sadness inside of me, and I know the rest of the world is feeling it too.
As I searched for the words to help me pay tribute to my superhero, I remembered the poem he wrote when he announced he was going to retire from basketball. The same poem that he then turned into a short film, and won an Academy Award for.
Dear Basketball, was Kobe's therapeutic way of coming to grips with the reality that his playing career was over. I figured that was a great place for me to start.
Below is an ode to that poem from myself, and fans all across Los Angeles (and the world) who feel the same way about Kobe as I do. Maybe it can help in the healing.
From the moment
You threw that alley-oop to Shaq
And won the first of five NBA titles
Including an 81-point game
And a 60-point swan song
All inside Staples Center
We knew one thing was real:
We fell in love with you.
Our love for you is eternal
As yours is in return
We feel it with every ounce of our spirit & soul.
As a confident 18-year-old
Already enamored with you
We didn't care about the air balls
We only saw greatness
And the championships you would bring.
And so we became one.
A city and its son.
We cheered you during the highs
And supported you during the lows.
You gave us your heart
And we gave you ours in return.
We watched you grow up
And stuck with you through thick and thin.
Not because we were Lakers fans
But because we were KOBE fans.
You were our idol
And became a real life superhero
Nobody made us feel more alive than you.
You inspired a world to follow their dreams
And to scream "Kobe!" every time they threw something away.
But life isn't fair sometimes.
And you were taken from us far too soon.
God only takes the best, and you were always the Chosen One.
And although we love you dearly
Our love alone couldn't make you stay.
And that's OK.
Even though we're not ready to let you go.
We want you to know now
That we will miss you every day.
So when we're feeling sad and lonely
We'll hear your words and remember the Mamba Way
"You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other and smile."
You taught us it's not about the destination
But the journey
And we can't join you on this final one.
But we can say thank you
From the bottom of our hearts
And teach you a lesson in return
That legends like you will never die.
Love you always,