By: Larry Bisagni
I don’t know how to start this. We aren’t supposed to be writing this until 2065.
My most sincere condolences to the Bryant and Altobelli families.
I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to write today, and nothing has felt right. I don’t know what I have for you, but I’ll try.
When I think of global Generation X superstars, I try to limit myself to people who are known by simply one name, and known around the globe. Tupac. Biggie. Cobain. Tyson. Jeter. Brady. Tiger. Agassi.
In Italian, there’s an expression: un’ di noi. It literally means “one of our own.”
When certain news stories break, people know exactly where they were when they heard the news. Unfortunately, it’s how you measure the magnitude of many a tragedy. I’ll never forget my cup of coffee this morning when my phone lit up like a pinball machine.
Kobe Bryant was one of Generation X’s icons. And from spending seven of his most formidable years there, my cousins in Italy have always identified the Black Mamba as un’ di noi: he was one of theirs. You could hear it in his masterful command of the Italian language, but could equally see it in very subtle and obvious ways. From the perfectly cut suits to the quietly elegant timepieces, Kobe always looked like he walked out of a photoshoot for a gentlemen’s boutique in Milan. His style oozed confidence, knowing he was the best dressed, most perfectly coiffed man in the room. Even his casual outfits had the appearance of being tailored.
Kobe didn’t do bling. Kobe did debonair.
There was an aura about Kobe that was regal and majestic, yet he felt like a peer to Generation X. As great as he was, there was always something so relatable about him.
Kobe was an outsider yet adored. Kobe was the smart kid in the room that still had the cool factor. Kobe was the jock who could hold his own in AP classes.
Us Generation X’ers grew up with Kobe. We were finding our way in the world at the same time. He was going to the prom when many of us were doing the same thing or had recently done so. The unbridled youthful spirit Kobe shone on the NBA in the late 1990’s reflected where many of us were at that point in our lives.
And somewhere along the way, we became adults. We got married. We had children. We established ourselves in our chosen vocation and became professionals. We became fully immersed in adulthood. Along with Kobe, X’ers began to a smattering of grays. Hairlines receded. A wrinkle here and there started to show, and an ache and pain along the way would seem to come and camp out a little longer.
While many of us still struggled to find our footing into our thirties, Kobe became the steady hand, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to two more of his five titles before hanging them up in 2016.
I watched every minute of that last game. You see, something told me that The Mamba wasn’t going out with a whimper. 60 points later, it was one of the finest performances I’d ever seen, as Bryant carried an anemic Laker team to a rare victory.
Another component of this complex man began to emerge as Kobe moved into the twilight of his career: what a loving, attentive, and doting father he was to his four daughters. I can’t think of any NBA player who supported the WNBA more than Bryant. None.
I met Kobe twice in the visitor’s locker room at Capital One Arena. In 1999, I was an intern for Hone Team Sports, and while jumping around camera gear, we exchanged pleasantries. My last encounter with him was 2004 when the one blemish on his brand was still very fresh. As we wrapped up getting sound, I thanked Kobe in Italian, wished him good night, and held out my fist for a bump.
“Grazie Kobe. Buona notte.”
Not missing a beat, Kobe winked at me, flashed his megawatt smile and said, “Prego. Ciao Bello. Di dove sei?” Translated: You’re welcome. Hey man, where are you from?
I pointed at the ground. “Qui.”
He laughed. “Okay! Your Italian is really good! Bravo!”
I wouldn’t call it an in-depth conversation, but it left an impression. It got a smile out of Kobe and gave me a split second connection to an icon of my generation.
With a very heavy heart, I once again say grazie, Kobe.