LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers holds the Larry O’Brian … [+]
The shock of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death will not wear off anytime soon. He was the most driven NBA player this reporter has ever covered, and also the most beloved — especially in Los Angeles.
Every NBA writer who has covered the league over the past several decades has his/her own Kobe stories to share, and this reporter has a few for readers of Forbes.com.
The best did not take place in the United States. It happened in China in 2008 when Bryant was a member of the Redeem Team .. a time when the younger superstars on Team USA, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, got a taste of just what a global icon Bryant had become.
The American team was under heavy security in Beijing, but nobody more so than Bryant. It was difficult for the members of Team USA to go out in the Chinese capital, but all of them managed. But in the case of Kobe, it was a battle against the masses.
BEIJING – AUGUST 22: (L-R) LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade of the United States compete … [+]
Mobs of fans encircled the U.S. team’s hotel, and Bryant ventured out only sporadically. When he did, he was surrounded by Chinese fans wearing No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys, and American federation security officials — many of whom had been working for the league since the 1960s and ‘70s, said they had never seen anything like it.
One moment that stands out in the memory banks was the time reporters actually ran out of questions for Bryant in Beijing. The U.S. team practiced at an American university in Beijing, and USA Basketball officials made all of the players available to the media at the conclusion of practice.
Because the Americans could not be out and about in Beijing because of the crowds and the security concerns, on one afternoon they simply lounged around at the university with nothing better to do.
BEIJING – AUGUST 24: (L-R) Carmelo Anthony #15, Kobe Bryant #10 and Chris Bosh #12 of the United … [+]
Kobe sat in a folding chair and entertained all manner of questions from the media, much to the delight of the Chinese media who swarmed the practice facility. But by the time an hour had passed following the conclusion of practice, Bryant was actually sitting all by himself with nobody left to pose any questions. Yes, he outlasted the media on that one occasion.
These days, media members are seated far away from the court in most markets — a far cry from the way it once was (something that is reflected in today’s often detached coverage).
When Bryant was a rookie in 1996, this reporter was covering a Knicks game for The Associated Press and was seated on what was once press row at Madison Square Garden. The AP seat was located at the far eastern end of the table, the seat right next to the visiting bench. This afforded an incomparable view into the happenings on each team’s bench.
That Lakers team featured Shaquille O’Neal in his first season with Los Angeles, and Bryant was a bench player who was just getting his first taste of the league. One indelible memory that is seered into my consciousness is sitting no more than 10 feet away from Bryant as the Lakers returned to the bench during a timeout.
03/02/98 – MCI Center – Lakers’ Kobie Bryant(L) listens to teammate Shaquille O’Neal as they sit on … [+]
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Bryant, just out of high school, gazed at O’Neal with a look of pure awe. Not even a half-year after attending his senior prom, there was no mistaking the bewilderment on Bryant’s face. He was teammates with Shaq, who at the time was the most larger-than-life figure in the NBA.
In Houston in 2002 to cover Yao Ming’s first game against Shaquille O’Neal, there was a problem involving Bryant. He was engaged in a feud with the team’s beat writers, and had not spoken to the media in quite some time — enraging then-commissioner David Stern, who unlike Adam Silver realized the value of having his players available to the media on a regular basis.
At a shootaround the day of the game, it was impossible to get anywhere near O’Neal as he held court. Needing a story, this reporter used the “that rule does not apply to me” rule and made his way to the Lakers locker room, where Bryant was sitting all by himself at his locker.
China’s Ming Yao (L) walks next to Kobe Bryant from the US, before their 2008 Beijing Olympic Games … [+]
AFP via Getty Images
The two of us knew each other, and I explained that Bryant could pull a fast one on Beck, Bresnahan and Broderick — as well as getting Stern off his back — by giving an exclusive interview to The Associated Press. Kobe obliged, even telling team media relations executive Alison Bogli to back off when she discovered the interview taking place. So the AP got a scoop, the L.A. writers got burned and Bryant was able to eventually make peace with everyone — something that always took time but eventually happened.
Rest in Peace, Kobe. And thanks for the help.