Kobe Bryant: Too Soon To Die, Too Late To Say Goodbye  

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Kobe Bryant and His Daughter, Gianna Maria Onore, 13, were both Killed in a Helicopter Crash on Sunday,January 26, 2020.

Not many people demand attention. Kobe Bryant did.  And now he’s gone. Today, President Trump tweeted about Kobe’s death … saying, “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news! “

 Yes it is.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death hurts just as much if not more than Whitney’s in February of 2012 or Michael’s in June of 2009. Of all the unexpected and sudden, unforeseen deaths in recent memory, this one really hurts.

Tragic accidents are brutal.  Tragic accidents are unforgiving. And tragic accidents like Kobe’s are humanly impossible to deal with. They rip your guts out, punch you in the throat, put you in a choke hold and then stand over you and demand that you sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with a smile on your face.  After a loss like this, there is no earthly way to recover or salvage our sense of sensibility other than to look to heaven for repose.

Kobe was LA, and Kobe was the Lakers. He was admired and loved or just respected or downright hated by everybody. Everybody had an opinion about him, because his life on and off of the court demanded attention.

Kobe was one of the great, greats, not only in the NBA, but in sports history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and will go down as one the NBA’s most revered scorers and defenders. Kobe’s resume is full of an embarrassment of riches. He made 18 All-Star teams during his 20 year career with the Lakers. He was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft, winning 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and he was the league MVP in 2008. He was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in scoring for two seasons. He ranks fourth in the NBA for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. Kobe also repped USA in a number of Olympic appearances.

Within the storied Lakers franchise, he is listed with a long list of the greatest that ever played the game. The Lakers have won so many games and so many championships. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabar to Earvin “ Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal and now LeBron “King” James. Over the years, the Lakers organization learned how to do one thing, and that is make it to the NBA Finals, and then win championships. And Kobe was a champion who won and lived like one.

And so we weep with them that weep and mourn with them that mourn and pray for Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the entire Bryant family. 

Unfortunately, this sad story got even sadder when it was learned that Kobe’s daughter Gianna Maria Onore — aka GiGi — was also on board the helicopter and died in the crash … She was only 13. We’re told they were on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice when the crash occurred. The Academy is in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa. Together, they had four daughters — Gianna, Natalia and Bianca and their newborn Capri. Kobe and Vanessa got married in 2001 after meeting in 1999.  He was only 41,  and he played 20 of those years with one team, one basketball family, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe is also “survived” by many Lakers who already miss his presence on court, and now will miss him in their lives.

In Kobe’s 41 years, he was much more than a legendary basketball player. He was a husband, father, friend and mentor to so many who still play in the “Association,” aka, the NBA. His iconic impact on the sport and his indelible imprint on the lives of athletes worldwide may never be fully known.

Kobe Bryant; too soon to die, too late to say goodbye.

 Farewell, Kobe.

Can Magic Pull A Rabbit Out of His Hat?

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Is it Magic or is it just make-believe? Is it live or is it Memorex? (Remember that one?) Is it possible or is it just probable that Magic Johnson can turn the Lakers around?  And soon?

 The LA Lakers are 19- 42, tied for second to last place In the Western Conference. The Lakers Organization, and Laker Nation, and everyone living in Southern Cal are used to winning basketball games, and NBA Championships, in June. The Lakers have a long and storied history of success, dating way back. Jerry West won. Wilt Won. Kareem clobbered. Magic and then Kobe (and don’t forget Shaquille O’Neal) all won multiple championships and have multiple rings.

But can Magic work a miracle? Can he be the savior and save this sinking, stinking, reeking and reeling team in need of more than a trim here and there? Yes they have young Luke Skywalker, err . . . I mean, Luke Walton on board, plus several young promising players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram; but . . .  The Lakers have room to grow as they have nowhere to go but up. However, it will be a steep climb for Johnson, who has no NBA front-office experience, to turn this young core into a championship team.

So, the question is this: can Earvin “Magic” Johnson sprinkle some pixy dust and wave his magic wand and pull a rabbit out of the hat?  The Lakers sure do hope so. 

So, if you missed it, here’s the news flash:

“The Los Angeles Lakers announced that they hired Magic Johnson to become president of basketball operations, firing GM Mitch Kupchak and Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss.

The move comes weeks after the Lakers named Johnson an advisor to the team. Shortly after, Johnson admitted he would like a chance to “call the shots.”

In a statement announcing the hire, Lakers president Jeanie Buss said, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Johnson said in the statement, “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

 Go Magic. We’re all pulling for ya.

Why Was I Doing My Taxes Instead of Watching Kobe Score 60 Points In His Last Home Game?, a.k.a., The NBA Now Stands for “Not Bad Anymore”

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I don’t have a good answer. I don’t. But my taxes are done and I don’t owe. That’s what matters. But I missed the game. Kobe’s LAST GAME! Seriously!? So . . .

The NBA is BACK! The Warriors broke the Bulls record for wins in a season, Steph Curry broke his own record for 3 Pointers in a season, and Kobe went out with a bang.

First, the Golden State Warriors have indeed made the NBA fun again. They play with pizazz and shoot with sass and pass with panache. They’re the golden team from the Golden State that is sitting on a golden goose of a future if they can keep this pace up. They’ve beaten the NBA’s best, and so the only drama for the playoffs is to see if San Antonio can give them a run in a seven game series or if Cleveland can in fact reach the Finals for the relished rematch we all rave to see.

Steph Curry, the darling denizen of the NBA’s elite echelon, is only 28 years old. He’s got more than a few good years left on those legs, and he can carry his team like only Mike and Kobe could (with an honorable mention to LeBron and Bird and “Magic” and of course Wilt “The Stilt” and Bill Russell). That said, His team won 73 games. Do they have it in them to win another title? That is the ONLY question. But it’s a question worth tuning in for to find the answer.

And finally, Kobe. Yes Kobe. His sayonara send-off tour got more press than his play, but his play ruled the day on the last night of his consummate and accomplished career. Kobe knocked down 60 – that’s right 60 – points in his final act at Staples Center. What a way to go. And I didn’t see it. But we went over that already. Anyway, Kobe couldn’t miss, and Utah couldn’t stop him, so we had one of the most epic and epochal ends to an ecstatic and euphoric 20-year career.

Kobe scored 33,643 points over 20 seasons, the third most all-time. He was surpassed only by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Hall of Famer Karl Malone. Mike came in at number four, and Wilt Chamberlain is No. 5 on the all-time points list. Not bad company. In fact, it’s rarified air indeed. AND, he scored the most points in his now legendary last game. In other words, Kobe scored more points in his last game than any other NBA player, EVER! By Far! And I missed the game! (As you can see, I’m still not over it yet). And so, like him or lump him, you cannot deny him his place in the annals of basketball lore.

So, the lesson is this: just when you think things are bad and bottoming out, here comes a Steph Curry to carry the League. Just when you think Kobe doesn’t care and the NBA is not relevant, you have records being ripped and story book endings being written. It just goes to show ya, the tango of sports and life are inseparable, not insufferable.

Tribute To Kobe Bryant: A Liked and Loathed Treasured Trove

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Kobe has more than his fair share of fans and foes. More than many or any other player, Kobe has a long list of likers and lumpers and lauders and defrauders. He’s won big and he’s lost bad, and yet he’s still as enduring a player as there ever was in all of sports. He’s won five NBA championships, two early and three later; first the three -peat from 2000 to 2002 and then the back to back in 2009 and 2010, with two distinctly different teams. The first three came with Shaq and the later two with Paul Gasol. And now he’s riding off into the sunset.

Kobe entered the NBA directly from high school, and he has played for the Lakers his entire career. He came in young and he’s going out old (for an athlete) and in between his bush and his bald head, he’s weathered many a storm and has tethered plenty of lukewarm admiration from us all.  

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Kobe’s done it all. In addition to 5 Larry O’Brien Trophies, he’s an 18-time All-Star, and he has won the All-Star MVP Award four times (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), tying him for the most All Star MVP Awards in NBA history. He’s a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and 12-time member of the All-Defensive team. He has led the league in scoring twice, and he ranks third on both the league’s all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring lists. And at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team.

But the current Kobe isn’t the Kobe that we once knew. By his own admission, the retiring 20-year veteran is “old as hell,” he said, laughing. Kobe continued to be among the top players in the league through 2013, when the 34-year-old Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon. His body, now an old 37, has aggressively waved the white flag, making this the only time that any part of Kobe has given up. Therefore, what you’ll see on Sunday is a museum piece, and a somewhat fragile one.

All-Star moments are rarely crystallized and preserved in our memory banks, mainly because the game itself is a simple exhibition. You’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Some are exceptions: Magic Johnson in 1992 after his HIV announcement being the most pronounced.

Kobe’s first All-Star Game might be No. 2 on the unforgettable list. It was the Passing the Torch game, meaningful for that and other reasons. Kobe was just 19, the youngest All-Star ever. The setting was New York and the arena was the Garden. It was 1998 and Jordan was making his final appearance as a Bull (though no one knew for sure at the time). With Jordan on the East (coached by Larry Bird no less) and Kobe on the West, the square-off was just too irresistible to ignore, and the pair fed everyone’s appetite by trading baskets.

In a sense, that scene will be repeated Sunday because Kobe will have so many torches in his hands, he might burn his fingers. There is Steph Curry and LeBron James, Paul George and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and others who were raised on basketball by Kobe.

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Like him or lump him, you can’t ignore him and his long legacy of winning, even if it came with plenty of cheese and a lot of “wine.” It seems as if Kobe’s complained about just about everything along the way. Most infamously, he complained about Shaq. But he made a comeback. And that’s what really matters. He’s endured teams and teammates and highs and lows and ups and downs and ins and outs. And for the rest of us, he’s shown how one can take a likin’ and keep on tickin’.

What Happened To Lamar Odom?

It’s all so sad.  It’s seems so senseless. And it’s certainly a serious, somber and sobering situation. We don’t yet know what exactly happened to Lamar Odom, 35 years of age, who is now in a coma.

Odom’s coma was possibly drug induced, but it certainly was not anticipated, predicted or expected. We do know that Lamar took cocaine and 10 doses of a Viagra-like medication, and now he’s fighting for his life in a Las Vegas hospital with his family at his side, including his estranged wife Khloe Kardashian.

Friends and former teammates have visited the hospital, including Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Jesse Jackson.

In 2011, Lamar is quoted with saying this: “Death always seems to be around me,” Odom said in a low tone. “I’ve been burying people for a long time. When I had to bury my child, I probably didn’t start grieving until a year and a half later.”

His mother, Cathy Mercer, died of colon cancer when he was 12. His grandmother Mildred Mercer, who reared him, died in 2004. His son Jayden, not quite 7 months old, died of sudden infant death syndrome in his crib in 2006.

And in August of 2011, Odom’s cousin died while he was in New York to shoot a television commercial. In another incident  during the same visit, the vehicle Odom was riding in hit and killed a 15-year-old motorcyclist. “I think the effects of seeing [my cousin] die and then watching this kid die, it beat me down. I consider myself a little weak. I thought I was breaking down mentally. I’m doing a lot of reflecting.” Odom said he didn’t eat much for “eight or nine days” after the events. All the while, thoughts of dark moments in his life consumed him.

There are aunts, cousins and friends, Odom said, all of them “taken away from me.”

You never really know and never fully know what people are going through, battling with, or struggling to overcome. You just never know. What drove the former NBA star to a brothel is currently a mystery that we may never know the answer to. And lest we rush to judgment, the deep, dark, surreal secrets of all of our lives are misty, murky mysteries as well.

Life has its way of beating us up and beating us down, and if we don’t have a good coach or corner man, a good colleague or co-worker, a close by confidant, comforter or consoler  — someone or anyone to lean on or turn to, we’re all liable to throw in the towel.

When asked about how he was coping with the tragedies of his life, Odom is again quoted with this bold statement: “It’s what it has done to me emotionally and physically . . .  I’ve had to tell myself that I will get through this. And I will. I have to.”

Amen to that Omar, amen to that.

Moses Malone: A Man Among Men

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Moses Malone had the right name. He was a mover and a shaker. Literally. He moved lesser men out-of-the-way to get his points and rebounds just like the Biblical Moses moved Pharaoh and the Egyptians out-of-the-way to get his people out of the muck and mire of making bricks without being given straw. Both men moved Heaven and earth to lead their people out of bondage. And for sports fans, losing is bondage.

Just like his namesake, Malone was a front-runner and forerunner and a groundbreaker and an earth shaker. And he certainly was a great basketball player. The first to jump from high school to the pros, Moses did it so that Kobe and LeBron and Kevin Garnett and countless others could follow.

Moses was a man among men. He was an All-Star and a League MVP and a Hall of Famer to boot. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds his entire career. Moses played on a few great teams, and played a lot of great games. And of course Moses led the Sixers to the Promised Land of an NBA Title in 1983. He single-handedly handed Julius “Dr. J” Erving his one and only Championship Ring —  and for that, all of Philly is eternally grateful.

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Moses did his job and did it well. He brought his lunch pail to work every day and didn’t ask for any favors or cut any corners. He scored in the paint and rebounded on the block without fail. When you needed a bucket and needed one “bad,” you went to Moses. The phrase “Malone Alone” became a catchall, as Moses would get points and grab rebounds just for something to do. Because that was what he was meant to do.

So, so long Moses. It is too ironic that you pass away on the heels of the passing of our other beloved Sixers’ Center, “Chocolate Thunder,” Darryl Dawkins. Both of you will forever live in the hearts and homes of the Philly Faithful, everywhere.

There Is No “I” In Team

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And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Acts 2:1, KJV

Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal has a doctorate in education.  Go figure.  But he is best known as a huge former basketball all-star, and is mostly known for his size and stamina, standing 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall and weighing 325 pounds (147 kg).  Better known by his nickname “Shaq,” he was one of the heaviest and heftiest players ever to play in the NBA.

Throughout his 19-year career, O’Neal used his size and strength to overpower opponents for points and rebounds.  He won four NBA Championships; three consecutive with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and one with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006. But for all of his hulk and bulk, Shaq could not win on his own. He knew the power of the team.

Shaq played on great teams, but great teams don’t just happen.  And scrumptious meals don’t cook themselves.  Just like custom cakes, winsome wins and triumphant triumphs are cooked and baked and good food is simmered and sautéed with only the best and finest of ingredients.

As big as he is, Shaq must know a little bit about good home cookin’, right? But how many know that good cooking doesn’t just happen?  And neither does winning.  All the right amounts and just the right components are required for success.

Shaq eloquently speaks about the ingredient of “team.”  Much has been made of his falling out with Kobe, and rightly so.  The team could not hold together when Shaq and Kobe were falling apart. And so Shaq went looking for another team, and he found another great team and another great teammate in Miami, where the blending of elements once again produced a championship team.

The ingredient of team is often overlooked and mostly undervalued.  Yes team is the sum of all the parts, but it is also the particular part that makes up the total sum.  You often hear commentators and coaches speak of teams as family or fraternity, and as a fierce fellowship of friends.  On the other hand, teams are not a fractured, frenzied fraction of foreigners who just so happen to be on the court or the field at the same time.  Unless a team is a bond of brothers, winning probably won’t happen, and winning really doesn’t matter.

Rarely is the component of a tried and true, great and genuine team stressed or even pressed.  It’s as if “teamwork” can just come along for the ride. Au contraire: teamwork must be driving the bus.  It seems that since teamwork is so vitally important, the necessity of a team working together must be mandated and made mandatory at the beginning of every season.

My loving wife is a great cook, along the lines of my mom and mother-in-law.  I, on the other hand, can barely boil water or toast bread. Well, maybe I’m not that bad, but you know what I mean. Likewise, some athletes don’t have a clue or give a hoot when it comes to playing on a championship team, or participating in a championship season. I, on the other hand, might not be a great cook, but I know what a good team looks like and I sure as heck know what a bad team looks like. And I think I know what it takes to build a team, and a winning team at that.

The spiritual tie is easy to make but hard to maintain. Together we stand; divided we fall. This truth applies across the board. Winning teams take chemistry and alchemy, symmetry and synergy and a whole lot of “the right place at the right time” kind of stuff.  So be a great teammate. Be a total team player. Put the team first, put others second, and put yourself last. And you will most certainly reap a ripe reward.