It was 2001 and I had just moved to Philadelphia.
It was taking a minute to adjust because apart from me being a little introverted, Philly people, or Philippians as I ironically called them, were not friendly people.
I didn’t live there for long but I did still like the city because there was so much emerging music out of Philly, and so much culture – African American, Asian, Latino, German, Italian, Irish, Polish and a big Jamaican community. Visiting each neighborhood was like being transported to that actual country – the languages, dialects, music clothing, food, buildings, etc, were all reminiscent of each neighborhood’s original country, down to the cobbled roads, narrow streets and the hanging of clothes on the balconies.
There was also The Free Library of Philadelphia where I used their computers regularly, borrowed new books, movies and CDs every few days, in short, it was my free Netflix.
Back then you could watch artistes like Jill Scot, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal and The Roots perform at small intimate venues, even cafés practically for free. I’m grateful that a couple of friends dragged me to some of these events. I knew Jill Scott was going to be big. I didn’t listen to The Roots prior to moving to Philly but quickly became a fan.
This is, however, not an ode to Philly. 2001 was also the year, the only time I ever saw Kobe play live. It was at the First Union Center (I think it’s called Wells Fargo now). A couple of colleagues and I got free tickets to the game from the company we worked for. I remember thinking I didn’t want to go because it was going to be crowded and rowdy. I thought I’d watch from the comfort of my living room but the temptation to watch Allen Iverson play live was too strong. The Sixers were in top form then. So, go I did. And I wasn’t disappointed.
May I confess one thing, though? I didn’t particularly like Kobe then. I thought he was too arrogant with a terrible attitude, traits that I thought were in full display at this game. I thought talent didn’t make up for his ‘bad behavior’. I didn’t understand his angst or anger. To his defense, he was heckled and booed non-stop by Sixers fans. It was terrible. I think he expected a little bit of welcome since he was from PA but he got no love at all. Did I mention Philly people can be vicious?
For several years, my original thought of him persisted. I remember having a slight ‘almost-fight’ with my friend Tamura (who is a die-hard Lakers and Kobe fan) when I voiced my opinion about him. Well, not a fight, I think she was about to deck me and it would have ended right there.
But then something happened, it wasn’t a sudden aha moment of revelation but I gradually found myself coming to respect and maybe even…like the man. And his brand.
So what happened? Finding out that he had been told he would never be good at basketball, being shunned when his accomplishments should have been celebrated, how he owned his insensitivity and came back and did better after the assault charge against him, his admirable commitment to being a great husband and father, his philanthropy, how he later learned to explain his thought process and carry his teammates along and then becoming a true leader, his activism in women’s basketball.
Did I mention his extraordinary work ethic? His desire to just reach for excellence and how he inspired people around him and all over the world; and the love that he attracted to the game of basketball. I loved seeing him with Gianna courtside or practising – being father and coach. You see, many would have cursed the gods for not giving them a son to pass their skills on to.
I started paying even more attention to him after he retired, wanting to see what was next. I knew there was more to come. It was the second act of his life and I knew, just knew it was going to be phenomenal, just like the first act. Alas! It was not to be.
It’s sad that we lost a legend (at such a young age) and that his daughter who would have carried on his professional legacy died with him. Aside from the legacy, her life and dreams have been cut short. I can’t imagine what his family is going through. It’s equally sad that we have been robbed of what was going to be – from him and his daughter, but we do not know the ways and the heart of God so accept it we must.
Seven others died in that helicopter with Kobe. They were not as famous but they were loved and their lives were equally important. It’s heartbreaking that three members of one family died and two from another, a young mother and a much respected man all died……May God comfort their loved ones and give them the strength to carry on.
Kobe, Gianna, John, Kerry, Alyssa, Christina, Sarah, Payton, Ara, may your souls find eternal rest.