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.

 

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