It’s funny how sometimes when you think of a particular athlete or moment in sports history, you remember exactly where you were and can almost put yourself back in that place as if it happened yesterday. The first time I ever watched Kobe play is one of those moments.
Back in 1996, I was a junior in high school and had recently been accepted to Purdue University. My mother and I flew out to Indiana to visit, and it also happened to be Final Four weekend, obviously a huge deal in the Hoosier state.
It was a Sunday, and my mom (who hates sports) was nice enough to take me out to a local sports bar for our last meal before we flew back to New Jersey. The McDonalds All American Basketball game was on, and they kept showing highlights of this kid named Kobe Bryant. I remember them telling stories about his father, former NBA player Jellybean Bryant, and watching the clips from the Slam Dunk Contest that Kobe won the previous night. However, what stands out the most was how they talked about how he was likely going to skip college and enter the NBA Draft.
That idea was relatively new to the NBA at the time, with Kevin Garnett being a pioneer of sorts, leading the charge. The thought of him doing it seemed so crazy because here I was with my mom looking at schools trying to decide the best path for my future, and Kobe was about to embark on an NBA career…and we were almost the exact same age. It blew my mind.
I was not a big fan of Kobe’s because I’m a die-hard Knicks fan. I always respected his game, but I am the type of fan that roots only for the guys in the blue and orange and pretty much can’t stand any other player. But when Kobe died, I was overwhelmingly sad because it took my mind back to that sports bar in Indiana. A place in time when we both had our entire lives ahead of us and dreams of making it big in our professions. For him to die like that showed me how fragile life is and how we need to live every single day as if we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. I know how much more I want to do before my time is up, and for Kobe, a father of 4, it is absolutely heartbreaking and so unfair that he was taken at such a young age with so much left that I’m sure he wanted to do.
That will always be my personal connection to Kobe.
-Jason Koeppel, Trading Cards Editor