Title

Growing Up Together: What Kobe Represents to the Soul of Los Angeles

This was not supposed to happen. Not to him or anyone else involved. Los Angeles mourns together not only for a storied basketball player and city icon, but their son. The MVP delivered five championships, five parades and more importantly, an immeasurable supply of memories that I and the rest of Los Angeles will undoubtedly cherish forever.

For better, or for worse, Kobe Bryant was ours. We raised him the moment he put on that Lakers cap during his introductory press conference after a draft-night trade with the Charlotte Hornets plopped him into our home.

He was only 17 then. A wiry and cocky kid from Philadelphia. But he was battle tested as well. He grew up playing ball in Italy during his youth under the pressure that came with being the son of a former NBA player. What many perceived as arrogance was more aptly an ooze of confidence that has not been equaled in sports since his arrival — and potentially could never be seen again.

SoCal Connected: Angelenos Mourn Kobe Bryant's Passing

Kobe wanted the spotlight as do millions of athletes and individuals who dream about making the trek to Los Angeles one day. Yet, beyond the obvious glitzy appeal of playing in this massive market, he also wanted the grime. He sought to master the vicious feeding frenzy that is L.A., that is being a Laker, and prove that he was born for this — that he deserved this mantle — and he would not rest until it was his.

For me, growing up in this city amidst the Lakers’ “Three-Peat” in the early 2000s, it was impossible not to have a connection to him. On every street corner, I saw his number and name draped on countless backs and in different shades of purple and gold, on both, legitimate and counterfeit jerseys. At any local basketball court, I found players, young and old, attempting his signature fadeaway from the elbow. Even if those shots clanked off the rim and rolled down into a groove of grass, the joy in those players’ voices when they shouted “Kobe!” rang through the core of every Los Angeles community.

Like so many fans, he was my favorite Laker. I spent countless hours persuading my classmates that Kobe, not Shaquille O’Neal, was the best player on the team. “He’s younger, he’s faster and he is just better,” I would contest when they tried to rebuff my claims. It ultimately did not matter if they agreed with me. I knew he would eventually prove me right. Because that is what Kobe always did.

His work ethic and drive to be the best were a thing of legend. Whether it is his widely renowned morning workouts, or famously sinking two free throws mere seconds after tearing his Achilles tendon, or scoring 60 points in his final game, Kobe was something of a modern-day tall tale come to life. Nothing would stop the 6’6” superhero from making the shot; not a cast, not dislocated fingers, nor a double team.

Story continues below

Although he was more physically and mentally talented than arguably anyone else in league history, he likely would be the first to say that preparation and hard work trump talent. This mantra and philosophy resonated with so many people simply trying to survive in the city. If you work hard enough, and you want it more than everyone else, you can do this too.

He was not a perfect person, however, nor did he ever pretend to be. The allegations in Colorado, his feuds with teammates and his verbal slurs toward a referee are as much a part of him and his legacy as are his accomplishments. For many fans who were of similar age as myself, these moments served as life lessons that no one is infallible.

Man walks by Kobe Bryant mural in downtown, taken the day of Kobe Bryant's passing on January 26th, 2020
Man walks by Kobe Bryant mural in downtown Los Angeles. Taken the day of Kobe Bryant's passing on Jan. 26, 2020.  | Karen Foshay/SoCal Connected

I was fortunate to watch every one of his iconic moments live. I watched his game winner against Phoenix during the 2006 playoffs from a hospital waiting room as my nephew would be born hours later. The sights and sounds of his 81-point outburst against Toronto blasted through my bedroom as I jumped and cheered. My father and I celebrated as he did, every single time he held the trophy in the air. I was there for them all and could not wait for the next one. Just one more.

I did not know it then, nor did it ever cross my mind during possessions in which he held the ball in his hands, that just a few years later I would write this piece, under these circumstances. The world lost nine lives Sunday morning. Families and hearts broken throughout this city, and the world.

The 17-year-old who was far too confident and talented for his age, became the thriving husband and father of four daughters, who was embracing his next chapter.

From the moment he put on a Lakers’ jersey he was ours. And he would grow up before our eyes. As would we, with him.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading