Archive for January 26, 2020

Kobe Bryant, 1978 – 2020

PR people usually want you to talk about whatever it is they are doing PR for.

Not Kobe Bryant.

Eleven days ago in Los Angeles, he wanted to talk about sports and winning and shutting up and getting on with it and just being the best that you can be.

I had seen him play in the Staples Centre on his farewell tour a year or two ago, lighting up the Golden State Warriors to hand them one of only nine defeats they suffered in a record-breaking season.

Now, in the LA sunshine of that Wednesday morning, he was retired, a businessman with his burning love of soccer, basketball and winning still very much intact.

Knowing that time would be limited, my colleague Rory and I considered carefully what we would ask him. WE skipped questions about the Hall Of Fame, instead asking about the Lakers, the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal that might have cost the LA Dodgers the World Series, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving Los Angeles to sign for AC Milan.

The PR people were in a hurry, but Kobe wasn’t. He wanted to talk.

He wanted to talk about his love of soccer, how growing up in Italy he learned to appreciate the beauty of the game, the ebb and flow, the details of what makes a play great in a sport vastly different from basketball.

He waved away the idea that the Dodgers should have been handed a World Series ring because the Astros cheated – in Kobe’s world, winning was done on the basketball court or the field of play, not the courthouse or some administrator’s office.

Looking fit enough to have suited up and taken on the visiting Clevealnd Cavaliers the night before, he was a man at ease with himself. His tendency to be prickly and soft-spoken was nowhere to be seen – he was a man glad to have a new context in which to talk about his love of sport.

Although his legacy on the court is a simple one – one of the greatest of all time – his legacy off the court is more complex.

A 2003 allegation of rape was eventually dealt with away from prying eyes and though his public statements on the matter recognised that the woman in question did not feel that what happened between them was consensual, there was no escaping the damage to his reputation – but in Kobe’s case, it was eventually repaired.

His death leaves us with a vacuum – one of the all-time greats of the game, he was beginning to find a new niche for himself as a powerful business broker in a global game that made his name known in every corner of the world, giving him enormous drawing power.

As the PR people tried to cut interviews short, Kobe kept talking until he was done. He wanted to make sure we got what we needed, that we understood his love of basketball and soccer and baseball, and how winning is the only thing that matters.

He wanted us to see him as someone new off the court, but someone inextricably linked to who he was on it.

Little did we know that it would be the last time we would see him at all.

Rest in peace, Kobe.

 

Rest In Peace, Marian

The first time Marian Finucane asked me to appear on her show, I almost cried live on air.

I had written about how my brother had been struck down by a serious illness, and I had to race against the clock from Stockholm to Dublin to be at his bedside as doctors doubted he would survive.

Thankfully he made it through that illness, and I wrote an article for an Irish newspaper about the sense of powerless that distance puts between the emigrant and their family in times of crisis, and the gratitude I felt towards those who cared for him.

Marian had read the piece and asked her team to find me and invite me onto the show, and I had to hold back the tears as I recounted the story.

Just as I am doing now, having just been made aware of her passing.

Marian wasn’t just any old radio host to me – her honeyed voice was the stand-out female radio voice of a generation. When I was young I listened as she coaxed Ireland to talk about its problems on the original Liveline, her warmth and compassion and quiet anger underpinning her ability to get people to tell their stories, unvarnished.

I must have done OK on my first appearance, despite my quavering, teary voice, because I was invited back regularly over the intervening six or seven years, and she would often call me from wherever I was on my travels covering newsworthy events, from riots and murders to World Cups and fights.

Only a few months later she had me on to talk about the riots that occurred in the Stockholm suburb of Husby in 2013, which I spent five nights in the middle of. I remember her genuine concern for me at that time, urging me to be careful  and to look after myself. Of the dozens of interviews I did with hosts and articles I wrote for editors at that time, she was the only one to do so out loud.

I also remember her getting me on the line from Las Vegas to talk about Conor McGregor – it was the middle of the night there, but I was more than happy to pick up the phone when her show called.

It was a joy to be on the same show as Lynn Ruane, another woman Marian  rightly thought that Ireland should hear more of.

Marian was incredibly well-read, and not necessarily in terms of stuff she would use on her show. She would read stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines and books, and make copious notes before entering the studio each week.

When her panel was in place, she would bustle in a few minutes before the top of the hour and settle herself, peering over the glasses perched on her nose to see how everyone was.

Old-fashioned media is often derided in the social media age, but she knew the power and reach that she had. Often she would ask a question she knew the answer to, just to make sure the matter was made clear to her listeners.

And when you left her studio and turned your phone on again, you felt the full force of that power as the text messages and DMs and social media tags rained in.

She had a fierce intelligence and sense of fairness, and hers is one of the few programs I have been on where I didn’t have to worry about gender balance – one of the original high-profile Irish feminists, there were always women on the panels in-studio.

She used to chide me for working too hard and travelling too much, and often asked both how and why my wife put up with me. Mind you, she was no slouch herself.

She may have only been in there for a total of four hours over the two days, but she worked incredibly hard to prepare for it. She also did a tremendous amount of work for charity.

In 2018 I asked her if we could turn the tables and if I could interview her for a podcast I was starting about media and journalism. She was in essence an extremely private person and wary of any personal probing, but she agreed immediately.

We booked a day, but she had to cancel as she was doing an event for orphans in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

We never did manage to find another date, and that is the saddest thing of all for me now. She was extremely warm and friendly towards me, expressing a genuine interest in what I was doing and what I could bring to her table of discussion, and I would have loved to have had the chance to get to know her even better.

I will have to content myself with the fact that she chose to give me a seat at her table more than once, and that I got to see up close how a genuine legend of Irish broadcasting worked, and that for me is enough.

As I think of her this evening, I am reminded that it was not me as a journalist that stood out to her first – it was the personal, powerful story of being abroad when a loved one was in trouble.

Her great gift was not that she was interested in politics or journalism – it was that she wanted to know the person behind every story.

May you rest in peace, Marian, and thank you for everything.

My sincerest condolences to Marian’s family, her friends and our mutual friends at RTE who produced her program so brilliantly every week. We will all miss her greatly.