By: Greg Rector
January 26th, 2020 started put as a nice Sunday morning and evolved into a day and night of unbelievably sad and raw moments after we learned of the passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in a horrific helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
I have been a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, since discovering basketball in 1975. I was mesmerized by seeing “The Skyhook,” the unstoppable shot possessed by Kareem Abdul Jabbar. So I have gone through the evolution of the game, from those early days where the center was the dominant position on the court, up to the game we see today, which sees so many multi-positional talents. Of course, the other major difference is there was no 3 point shot when I started watching. Yes, I was that kid who would stay up late and watch NBA basketball on tape delay.
Name the teams, or the players from 1975 on and I have adored watching them. You may know as well if you have ever tried getting me into one of those GOAT discussions with me on Twitter, I don’t partake. My preference is always the best in their era. From 1996 to 2016 the unquestioned best of his generation (18 years) plus career, Kobe was the best of his era. As we are seeing on every sports network, on every news channel, and all the print media, Kobe transcended the sport of basketball. He was the first player who truly blew up the internet on many nights. Don’t forget Michael’s career was mostly in the pre-internet explosion age.
For all of his accomplishments on the court, the thing that got to me the most was learning his second child Gianna, perished with him. Learning in 2018 that Kobe and I shared a common experience, coaching our daughters, brought a smile to my face and happy memories. As some know and what others won’t know, is I lost my daughter in a car accident in 2009. She was 22 at the time. However from the time, Heather was 12 until she was 15 I coached her in basketball. There was no greater feeling than being a part of her development, not just as a player, but as a human being. Team sports truly develop character, sportsmanship, leadership, a sense of being a part of something greater than yourself. I learned that in my days playing sports and carried it on for 15 years in the United States Marine Corps.
Heather when she was younger certainly didn’t share in my love of sports. I would bring her with me to watch me play pick up games with guys from the neighborhood. Mostly she would only come because after these games we would go together for ice cream or other bribe worthy goodies. When she turned 11 though, suddenly my girl would come out of her room as I was watching Lakers games after her bedtime,(good thing mom was a heavy sleeper) and she started asking me about the game itself. That led to going to a local gym and teaching her how to dribble, how to pass the ball, and finally how to shoot a basketball. Then she asked if a couple of her friends could start doing the same. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that these GIRLS could play at a pretty decent level. This led to them wanting to form a team. Guess who got tabbed to coach them? Yes, I and one other dad suddenly had 11 girls and a team was born.
That first year we played them at the lowest level of AAU ball available. Focused on skills, no scores were ever kept etc… From there they indeed moved into competitive games, and together won more than they lost. The last year together they had grown to the point where we traveled to four tournaments, and our girls won three of them. Most importantly they learned to accept defeat, they learned you learn more from a loss, than you ever will from a victory. Those girls all went on to play at various high schools, and two of them played in college.
The most special part of the whole experience though was always seeing how my baby girl grew, not just as an athlete, but as a person. She was more confident, she loved helping others get better, never thought of herself first on or off the court. Playing basketball taught her that it’s always better to lift everyone up together, rather than being the center of attention. She learned how to focus, and being a Marines daughter she most importantly learned how to these three things that we live by in the Marine Corps, ADAPT, IMPROVISE, AND OVERCOME, apply to all aspects of life. She understood my world better, and I got to remain close to her in those years that are so awkward for many parents and their kids.
So the last thing that Kobe Bryant, and I share is a perspective about girls and women in sports. There is NOTHING and I mean NOTHING that should stop a girl, or a woman from participating in, and succeeding in sports. Kobe named a few WNBA players that he said could play right now in the NBA itself. That’s from a MAN who played at the highest level in the sport for 20 years. Can they do everything that a man can do on a basketball court? No, then again they don’t have to. They simply accomplish their goals differently.
The best female golfers in the world, that’s who you should be watching to all you duffers out there, they play the game smartly, not with all the power seen on the PGA Tour. Watch the best women soccer players, they play a true team game. Same goes for hockey, they don’t drive each other into the boards looking to be tough, they pass, they skate, and they play beautifully. So in closing, go support girl’s sports wherever you are local. Go to their games in high school, at the colleges. You might surprise yourself and enjoy the experience.
May we all use that lesson from Kobe Bryant 1978-2020 Rest In Power.