By Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson
Kobe Bryant’s finale on Wednesday is the epitome of doing whatever the heck you wanted to do on the last day of school.
You remember that know it all kid in the front row that you wanted to give a piece of mind to all school year? How about that annoying kid you wanted to stuff in your locker or the bully who you finally got the gall to swing and punch his lights out?
Yeah, that 60 point assault just about washed away Bryant’s sins. The only player in NBA history to spend 20 seasons with one team, Bryant scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and rescued the 17-65 Lakers from a 15-point deficit at the Staples Center Wednesday night. The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 101-96.
“What else can I say,” Bryant said after the game. “Mamba out.”
Love him or hate him, like Frank Sinatra said, Kobe, ‘did it his way.’ When you asked folks about Kobe Bryant, it is always a mixed bag. He wasn’t the most liked, but he also was respected.
“He was a beast, one of the best,” said a former player. They followed up by saying, “Not one of the biggest Kobe fans, so I might not be the best person for this interview.”
All don’t feel that way though.
“He was true to the game,” said retired NBA vet Isiah Thomas. “A champion!”
Bryant who finished the game with 60 points on 22/50 shooting also handed out four assists and hauled in four rebounds. He also became the oldest player to score 50 or more points in a game.
“What a great way to finish off a Hall of Fame career,” retired NBA player and TSN analyst Morris Peterson told me. “On a night when the Warriors are making history, Kobe still found a way to steal the show. He left the game his way: On top! What an honor it was to play against the greatest player of our era.”
Comedian D.L. Hughley, a Los Angeles County resident is never at a loss of words. But he marveled at Kobe’s performance Wednesday. “60 points.” Hughley said via text message. “A night fit for a king.”
“Kobe is a true champion with the heart of a lion and it showed in his final game,” said Kobe’s brother-in-law Jerrod Washington Wednesday night. “His passion,will and determination got him to where he is today and will be with him forever.”
The 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, PA, a hop skip and a jump from Philadelphia, what made Bryant’s game unique is that it has many skill sets. A second generation hooper, his daddy Joe “Jellybean” Bryant played overseas in Italy and in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets. Jellybean had excellent footwork and Kobe acquired those athletic genes and then some. But he also had something special that was his own: a blend of fundamentals, streetball, Hakeem Olajuwon footwork, a Michael Jordan takeover and the college game seemingly all genetically mutated into one character from the movie Ghostbusters.
“Kobe Bryant was the classic example of greatness in street basketball crossing over into the NBA,” said New York city streetball legend Pee Wee Kirkland. “Now the NBA has gone global on the backs of players like Kobe Bryant. “When you look at a guy like Kobe Bryant, he mostly reflects individual greatness. Kobe won with Shaq, he won without Shaq and he proved himself as an individual without him having to have great players around him because he reflected individual greatness.”
Living with a purpose and goals is something that Bryant had early on. Greg Turner was a classmate of Bryant’s at Lower Merion High School. They took chemistry and gym together and would often play pickup games in the neighborhood and during lunch recess. Turner knew that Bryant was different when he witnessed Bryant arrive at school at 6:30 AM to get a parking spot and he’d find Bryant in the gym doing pro workouts.
“Kobe would be in the gym working on his game,” said Turner. “At lunch he would always play basketball, even during gym. We were doing something else and he would be playing ball. After school, he would be in the weight room or gym working on his game. He always took his craft serious. The media shows one side of him, but the Kobe we know was cool, calm, funny, and a kid that just loved Wu Tang, Magic Johnson, and knew he was going to be the best player in the world.”
The buzz that the school was getting while Bryant was there was insane. Every game sold out and lines to get into the gym were around the corner. Think Beatles, think Warriors, think 90s Chicago Bulls.
“The gym was electric like a Final Four game,” recounted Turner. “We used to have buses jam packed to follow the team across the state to watch them play! Those games were sold out too. We had a chant, “When the Ace is in the house, Oh my God.”
Will Carter had to guard Bryant when he started for Archbishop John Carroll High School in Wayne, PA. As crazy as the gym may have been from a fan’s perspective, it was even crazier having to guard the Lower Merion Ace.
“He was a monster and everyone knew it, “ said Carter. “Philly culture was to compete against whoever. So nobody backed down. That’s why he played in Philly a lot. He didn’t want a pass from anyone he wanted to go against the people that wanted to take his spot. The Donnie Carr’s, the Richard Hamilton’s, the Naim Crenshaws.”
Carter ended up coaching at Lower Merion for ten years and assisting Bryant with his camps the last five years.
Dallas Stokes, currently a sneaker designer and executive at And 1 will be the first to tell you that he bleeds green and white. He’s a Celtic fan. A former designer at Adidas when Bryant was wearing the brand at the beginning of his career, Stokes has worked with a lot of athletes and believes that Kobe was easily one of the easiest athletes to work with. Stokes first met Bryant at an appearance in Venice Beach and recalls Bryant pulling up in a brand new Lincoln Navigator.
“I was well aware of Brandy’s prom date, but not aware that I’d have an opportunity to work with yet another one of the greatest basketball players of all time,” said Stokes.
Throughout the years, he and Bryant would see each other at various Adidas gatherings and recounted a time that Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Lisa Leslie snuck him into a party in the freezing cold in New York during NBA All Star Weekend in 1998.
“I stood outside for like thirty minutes,” recounted Stokes. “I was just about to leave when along came Kobe and Tracy McGrady. They were in full rockstar mode with cameras flashing and people screaming. We figured he’d never even see us. I started yelling, ‘KB8!!! KB8!!!’ He was like, ‘yo what’s up come on in with us.’ I got in and partied with those guys for a while.”
Rapper Juelz Santana grew up a Knicks fan. The Harlem lyricist who’s assortment of jerseys and Jeff Hamilton jackets that he and fellow Dipset members Cam’ron, Hell Rell, Freekey Zekey and Jim Jones sported in videos like ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Hey Ma’ in the early 2000s may suggest that Bryant may get a pass.
“I wasn’t a fan of Kobe, but not in a bad way,” he said. “But he demanded my respect. You couldn’t hate on him. no matter what. You know that guy that you may not like, but you can’t say nothin’ bad about him? That’s what Kobe was to me. I was a big Jordan fan and everybody always said he was better than Jordan, so that was my whole dilemma with not being a Kobe fan.”
Actress Reagan Gomez-Preston got an early start herself in show business. She appeared in Jerry Maguire, Robert Townsend’s The Parenthood on the WB network, the voice of Roberta Tubbs in Family Guy and The Cleveland Show and plays Jenny and Kiki in Steven’s Universe. An LA resident, she was in high school when Bryant was drafted in 1996 and because of their age, location and career, feels like she’s grown with Mamba.
“I’ve been in LA for over 20 years and the city will miss him,” she said. “It’s the end of an era for people like me. The end of our childhood I guess. He’s one of the greatest to ever play the game and I’m happy me and my husband got to see him play. He’s retiring but he’s still young! I hope he continues to do what he loves to do. Be a great father, husband and whatever else he wants to do.”
“It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new one,” Bryant’s former teammate Samaki Walker said via text.
The higher one goes up on the elevator, it is the responsibility to send the elevator back down. As successful as Bryant has been on the court, he has invested time into the next generation through mentorship. He spent time with Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and more throughout his career.
“You have to have veterans who are interested in investing the younger guys that are coming in,” said former Los Angeles Clippers center Keith Closs. “What I mean by investing in them is mentoring them, showing them how to be professionals, show them how to come in through example and showing them how to do their job the right way. It’s what Kobe had when he got to the league with the Lakers. He was surrounded by these smart veterans. He had Eddie Jones, he had Shaquille O’Neal, he had Rick Fox, Nick Van Exel, guys who knew what it took to be great professionals. That’s why he sat on the bench and learned from these guys his first year.”
Many fantasize of the idea that Kobe should have gone out on top like Michael Jordan after the Bulls’ second three-peat in 1998 or Peyton Manning’s sayonara after winning Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos. Peyton, unlike Kobe, had a supporting cast that also included a kick your, ‘rhymes with glass,’ defense.
Kobe’s farewell tour was more like Derek Jeter’s retirement tour with the New York Yankees a couple of years ago. Bryant, the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer is okay with not finishing like Peyton.
“It would have been amazing,” Bryant told me in February. “But you know, it just wasn’t meant to be. But at the same time, I couldn’t complain about it. I’ve enjoyed winning to the tune of five championships and been very fortunate to have those. Most players haven’t been able to get one. So, you gotta be able to take the good with the bad.”
Brandon Robinson is a sports and entertainment writer and TV personality. You can catch him daily on CBS Radio Play.it’s Brown and Scoop Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SCOOPB and visit www.ScoopB.com.