Updated: Jan 27
It's been a year, already.... and it's still hard to believe.
I still have a hard time talking about it. I won't watch the tributes. I won't read the articles.
Which is kind of ironic that I'm actually writing one.
It wasn't easy, but here it is......
With me being a Lakers fan since 1980, I've seen quite a bit with the Lakers. Needless to say, but I'd seen the entire evolution of Kobe "Bean" Bryant aka The Black Mamba, and it was one helluva ride.
My former University of Maryland-Eastern Shore basketball teammate, business mentor and friend, Mike Harris of Best Sports Consultants (formerly BEST Sports & Entertainment) started Kobe's fan club in 1996. He even set up Kobe's prom date with singer/actress Brandy, as well as getting him a cameo appearance on Brandy's hit TV show Moesha.
Kobe Classmate Speaks On Brandy Prom
Mike Harris of Best Sports Consultants
In 2001, I moved to Philly, where I lived with Mike Harris and handled Public Relations for BEST Sports and Entertainment. I actually began working with Mike in 1999 through my promotional company, Flavaz Promotions. I was the host DJ at several celebrity events and co-organized a few events as well. It was then when I got to know quite a bit about Kobe, through Mike, as well as through others in Philly who knew he and his family. I also found out about the strained relationship he had with his parents and many of the hoop fans of Philadelphia.
From a far, I always wondered why Kobe was always booed so heavily when he played in the city of brotherly love. In a 2001 interview, the place he called his "hometown" was Los Angeles, and NOT Philadelphia, to the surprise of many. The Philly faithful would share their displeasure whenever he and his Los Angeles Lakers would come to town. In 2001, the Lakers met the Sixers in the NBA Finals, where Kobe and Shaq would dominate that series, as the Lakers won their second of three straight NBA championships.
Technically, Kobe was born outside of Philly, in Montgomery County (1978). Regardless of the fact, Kobe had embedded in him, that Philly toughness and unwillingness to back down from anyone or any situation. At a young age (5), he and the family would eventually move to Italy, as father Joe "Jellybean" Bryant would play there professionally for several years (1983-1991).
In 1991, upon wrapping up his basketball career in Italy, Joe would move the family back to Philly. Well, technically, outside of Philly, were young Kobe would attend Lower Marion High School.... and as the old saying goes, "THE REST IS HISTORY".
Dondre' Phoenix's Flavaz Promotions and BEST Sports and Entertainment
Kobe Bryant Talks Moesha
Mike Harris' connecting of Brandy for Kobe's prom date and Kobe's appearance on Moesha was all a part of the early branding and taking advantage of the Hollywood address, being a L.A. Laker.
On the court, Kobe showed much promise and flashes of the greatness that we would witness for 20 years. We would also see a young 18 year old kid who'd jack up ill-advised jump shots, try to dribble through and around 2 and 3 defenders and throw wild behind the back passes that would become turnovers. Shaq dubbed the young pup, "Showtime", because Kobe would always try to make the simple play, SPECTACULAR.
With all of the highs and lows of his rookie season, Bryant absolutely did not lack in confidence. As was seen in the 1996-97 Play-offs vs the Utah Jazz, when he jacked up 4 air balls in the close out game that the Lakers lost. Utah won the series (4-1).
Kobe Bryant Air Balls
During Bryant's rookie season, the Lakers were loaded with veteran talent that featured Shaquille O'Neal, Elden Campbell, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Cedric Ceballos, Jerome Kersey and Byron Scott, among others. On Jan. 10, 1997, Cedric Ceballos was traded for Robert Horry. That's a trade that wold prove to pay huge dividends for the Lakers. The Lakers won 56 regular season games.
Going into Bryant's second season (1997-98), there were some roster tweaks made to help bring some cohesion and chemistry to the deeply talented squad. Rick Fox (free agent) and Robert Horry (trade) were brought on board. Both were quality team guys, who played on both ends, could knock down the outside shot, yet didn't need the ball in their hands constantly. The Lakers won 61 games, but swept in the West Finals by the Utah Jazz.
By Kobe's third season (1998-99), he cracked the starting line-up. It was a strike shortened season that only saw 50 games (Lakers 31-19, 2nd in Pacific division, 4th in the West). The Lakers made more changes to the roster, trying to fit players around the emerging dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Veterans such as Dennis Rodman, J.R. Reid, Derek Harper and the sharpshooting All-star forward from the Charlotte Hornets Glen Rice, joined the Lake Show. Star guard Eddie Jones was traded for Rice. Many felt that Jones was impeding the steady growth of Kobe Bryant. Not to mention, they both had similar games and similar size, which Buss, Jerry West and Phil Jackson didn't see as a long term fit. Kobe being six years younger, seemed like the better long term fit, with a much higher ceiling of potential. They proved to be correct.
At the time, personally, I wasn't fully sold on Kobe Bryant, especially in comparison with Eddie Jones. By that time, Jones had blossomed into an All-Star guard and played on an extremely high level on both ends of the court. I was a HUGE Eddie Jones fan and was disappointed to see him traded to the Hornets. But to receive a player in Glenn Rice, who was a knock down shooter from the outside and didn't have high ball usage to get his shot. It made sense to open up the middle for Shaq to post and for Kobe to display his all around skill set even more so.
However, the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the West semis. After the third straight year of an early exit and two coaches, Del Harris and former Lakers standout Kurt Rambis, it was evident something more than roster changes was needed.
With the Chicago Bulls team being dismantled before the start of the 1998-99 season, there was a legendary coach who had some unfinished business left and the Lakers could most definitely use his services.
So Lakers owner Jerry Buss opened up his purse and brought on Phil Jackson, who was not only was a great coach, but an even better handler of super stars and their huge egos. Something both, the Lakers would need.
Again, before the 1999-00 season, the Lakers made a few more tweaks to it's roster. Nick Van Exel was no longer in Hollywood. He was moved to the bench during the previous season, due to the emergence of third year guard Derek Fisher. Fish was more of a prototypical point guard. He was not a shoot first point guard. Not flashy by any means, but steady and reliable. Fisher was more of a director of the show. He got guys in place and understood that the ball should go through Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant on the offensive end.
The Lakers also brought in veterans A.C. Green, Brian Shaw, Ron Harper and John Salley. Harper and Salley played with Phil in the triangle offense, so they could help in getting teammates on board and assist with the nuances of the offense.
The Lakers would go 67-15, after hitting their stride following the all-star break. They finished with the best record in the NBA and went on to beat the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in the NBA Finals. The first of three straight NBA Championships.
After the experiment of 2003-04 with Karl Malone and Gary Payton, the Lakers lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons 4-1. The Lakers were left with a huge financial decision involving Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. The decision was just as much a chemistry and ego decision as well. With mounting tension between the two stars, Kobe and Shaq, the Lakers bet on the younger, more versatile Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers sent Shaq packing to Miami, as the Lakers received Lamar Odom and Caron Butler in the deal.
Odom would become a vital part of Kobe's next chapter, along with Pau Gasol a few years later. The Lakers would go on to make three straight NBA Finals appearances (2008-10), winning two of them (2009-2010).
During the second chapter of Kobe's career in L.A. he would show his leadership ability, as well as display why the moniker, "Black Mamba" would become legendary.
Kobe would go onto change his number from 8 to 24, chopped down the 'fro even further and become one of the all time greats in NBA history.
Even though many of us were blessed to see the entirety of Kobe's NBA career, with his cut throat, no nonsense approach, he was beginning to show us his more loving side through his fatherhood, philanthropy and mentoring of other NBA / WNBA stars, through personal workouts and his teaching of the game. He even provided a very detailed description of the game, through his lens, with his "Detail" segments, as he broke down film of player on ESPN.
Many of us seen the entire 20 years in L.A, but we still feel cheated because we did not get to see the ever evolving humanitarian he was becoming. To see him share and impart the totality of his wisdom to the rest of the world.
As mentioned earlier, Kobe helped mentor many of the young stars we see today. You will see a lot of Mamba's influence in players such as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Devon Booker, Jayson Tatum and Azzi Fudd, just to name a few.
I was blessed to see a young, wide eyed kid, with tons potential come into the league at the tender age of 17 and watch him achieve these hall of fame, career accomplishments:
5 time NBA champion (2000-02, 2009,2010)
2 time NBA Finals MVP (2009,2010)
NBA Most Valuable Player (2008)
18 time NBA All-Star (1998,2000-16)
4 Time NBA All-Star MVP (2002,2007,2009,2011)
11 time All-NBA First Team (2002-04, 2006-13)
2 time All-NBA Second Team (2000,2001)
2 time All-NBA Third Team (1999, 2005)
9 time NBA All-Defensive First Team (2003,2004,2006-11)
3 time NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2001,2002,2012)
2 time NBA scoring champ (2006,2007)
NBA Slam Dunk Champ (1997)
NBA All-Rookie Second Team (1997)
Naismith Prep Player of the Year (1996)
McDonald's All-American (1996)
First team Parade All-American (1996)
.......... through his influence on many of today's young stars and his great legacy, Kobe is STILL The Black Mamba......... Forever.