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Kobe’s Last Dance

January 26, 2020 my world came to an abrupt halt, for a few moments at least. My heart pounded harder as I read the misspelled text a friend had sent me. “Kobe Bryant does in crash.”

I knew instantly what the sender meant to type, but my mind would not allow it to be true. It couldn’t be. I had a horrible signal on my phone but typed quickly and with purpose. I typed in the name, and stared at the the final letter, the T in his last name, for what seemed like hours on end. I did not want to push enter. The confliction of needing to know a truth you don’t want to know. I drew in a deep breath, and hit enter. News articles flooded the top of my screen. “Kobe Bryant dead at 41”, “Helicopter crash kills several: Kobe Bryant reported among the deceased”

I felt my heart break, and blood flow out of my face as I turned pale as a ghost. My wife turned and looked at me, and became immediately concerned. “What is it? What's wrong?” I looked up to her, my eyes starting to water. Could I find the strength to summon words? Was this a dream? “Wake up! Wake up dammit!”

“Kobe Bryant is dead.”

The days and weeks that followed I still felt the never fleeting pain in my soul. A stabbing sensation of a serrated knife carving into the softest part of my heart. I questioned if it was even OK for me to allow myself to feel this way. I mean, this wasn't a family member or close friend that had passed. It was a celebrity that I’d only seen on TV. A stranger. Should I tell people how I felt, and risk them making fun of me, like I would if someone was upset one of the Kardashians got a bad hair-do?

I could only justify it like this; Kobe Bryant entered the NBA at 17 years old, the year I turned 16. He has been my favorite player since before his first game, and I copied everything he did. From his long wiry crossover dribble moves, to his fade away jump shot, to the way he wore his sunglasses. He was somebody I cheered for, and idolized, even though I knew better. I defended him after Colorado, and a Kobe Hallmark ornament sat atop my christmas tree every year, like an angel. I wore his number, I had his poster, and rookie cards, and videos. I loved his commercials and his presence, and felt choked up when he walked off the basketball court for the last time, after scoring 60 points in his final game. I may have not known him as a person, but as a basketball player, he was someone I loved, no matter how corny that sounds.

Fast forward to May, and episode 5 of The Last Dance on ESPN. The episode opens “In Loving memory of Kobe Bryant.” The next few minutes are highlights of MJ and the Mamba dueling it out on the court and in the 1998 NBA All Star Game. A game by the way, that Kobe tried to steal, and almost successfully stole the MVP award away from Michael Jordan. If not for being bench the entire 4th quarter, with 18 points, he may have achieved his lofty goal. We see 40 year old Kobe, in a red jump suit, talking about his memories and respect of Michael Jordan, and I feel all those emotions coming back. Like looking through a photo album and seeing loved ones, long gone, reminding you they are no longer here.

A bright spot to be found, is around this time, I am made aware that ESPN has the footage, and plans to use it, to do a “Last Dance documentary about Kobe Bryant's final season in the NBA. If the news of the Bulls documentary got me excited, this news put me over the moon.

Complete with flashbacks and interviews, and high school games, and behind the scenes feuds? I am giddy just writing this. Bittersweet as it is, I will try to savor all the sweetness of this that I can. If the homage to Kobe at the start of episode 5 reminded me that he is actually gone, the news of a similar documentary following him, and what we may get to see again, and for the first time, has reminded me that legends never die.

It will be a shame to not hear him interviewed, the same way that MJ is, as Kobe was as unfiltered as any athlete ever. But to be able to see him in action again, and see things we’ve never seen, I can not contain my excitement. No release date has been announced, and in fact, it has not been announced that they are moving forward with the project officially. It could be next year, or the year after. Whenever it happens, I will be there. I will cry. But, I will love every second of seeing Kobe’s last dance.

Wayne Gregoire