I will not pretend that I was ever a basketball fan -- ever.
Five-foot-sixers seldom are. I knew the name ‘Kobe Bryant’ the way you do that of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer, never mind that you have never held a golf club or tennis racket in your hand, or are interested in either sport. But because, like Bryant, these guys have been around, and world famous, for this entire century.
There was a time basketball was the Prestigious sport in urban Kenya, from the early to mid-nineties. That was back in the 90s when people just dreamed of immigrating to ‘Stato’.
Winning a Green Card was like winning a ‘Mozart Bet’ jackpot, and peeps thought American accents were cool, which is why when FM radio arrived in Kenya in the mid-90s, all local radio presenters ‘twanged’ (a few foolish ones still do).
The music of the mid-90s was hip-hop hard rap, East Coast vs West Coast, Tupac Shakur (yay) versus the Notorious B.I.G. (boo)!
The basketball rivalry of the era was Michael Jordan versus Magic Johnson — but then The Magic got HIV in an era when the virus was still thought of as a death sentence, and retired from the BB court in 1991, leaving the field all to ‘His Airness.’ (Magic is not only still alive, but 60, and worth Sh60 billion).
Then, in the mid-nineties, along came a prodigious teenager called Kobe Bryant. This was the time, thanks to the NBA, that the height of male fashion was having a clean shaven head, a la Michael Jordan, maybe sporting one earing, a slim gold neck chain, a basketball blouse won with big shorts reaching the knees, and ‘Air Jordans’ (big Nike sneakers pumped up full of air).
Millennials, if you ever see a guy who is 40 in a club and clad like this, just know he is missing being Sweet 16.
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By the time Bryant was winning three BB championships in a row with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000 — 2002), Kenyan dudes had moved on from holding American basketball in awe, to being obsessed with the EPL (English Premier League), mostly thanks to the entry of DStv.
In those years, you were either Arsenal or Man United (Liverpool had the Old Timers), with the really smart money switching to Chelsea FC in 2003. It was also the year that Kobe Bryant got into a tryst with a hotel worker called Kathleen, which he said was consensual as she cried rape.
In 2004, preliminary charges against Bryant were explored. In 2005, Kathleen took Sh250 million from the star to withdraw her complaint (the drunken freestyle video where she brags about ‘raping Kobe’ is available on YouTube).
In the mid-oh-ohs, taking his ‘Black Mamba’ total focus + lightning strike game philosophy to a whole new level, Bryant became the Prince of Basketball (LeBron was King), winning the 2008 MVP award.
Barack Obama became president that year, and as a former BB player himself, was a huge fan, once describing himself as the ‘Kobe Bryant of American politics’ in a rare immodest, if true, moment.
But for me, it is Kobe Bryant, devoted husband to his high school sweetheart, and doting Dad of four beautiful daughters, that stands out as a real man — beyond the lights and legend of basketball glory.
He was a huge supporter of the W-NBA (Women’s National Basketball Association), and whenever anyone asked him to ‘get a son to carry on (his) legacy,’ Kobe would retort: ‘I already have a daughter who will set the (basketball) world on fire.’
He was talking about his daughter, Gianna, who from about the age of eight, had shown a precocious talent for the game.
Gianna will not set the basketball court on fire in the way that her Dad did for two decades!
On a Sunday morning, in foggy weather, she was on her way to a practice session with her father, coach, his daughter, her team-mate and her team-mate’s parents, when their private helicopter hit a hill while approaching the city, and went down in flames, killing them all.
Gianna was only 13 when she passed away, but she is eternally embraced in her Dad’s L A legend.
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