A Black Mamba Farewell

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Obsessed, complex, with all-too human frailties ...and a transcendent talent

Last night our Loyalist College women’s bballers played at Scarborough’s Centennial College – not a great outcome for us. We got whacked, and our playoff seeding is looking dodgier by the day.

But the OCAA organized a good thing at tip off. Following the NBA’s lead, leagues across the world are paying tribute to Kobe Bryant. The Loyalist and Centennial teams traded 8 second back court, and 24 second shot clock violations to honour the Black Mamba’s two retired LA Laker jersey numbers – while reinforcing the legacy of a truly transcendent athletic talent and personality.

Millions of sentiments have been expressed since Kobe and his fellow helicopter passengers were tragically killed in last week’s crash on a southern California hillside. The remarkably powerful emotions unleashed by Kobe’s death have flooded across basketball and the larger world. For our OCAA women, and any basketballers under age 35, Kobe was an iconic player – like Lebron, Michael, Magic, Bird, Wilt, Kareem … a single name embodies his athletic greatness, a one word talent trademark that will forever be bigger than any single game, or sport.

I was never a massive Kobe admirer in his earlier years. A basketball genius, the ultimate shot-making assassin, driven by an all-consuming will to win – uber-talented, tough, fearless, and passionate – I never doubted any of it. These undeniable competitive strengths were also often awkwardly aligned with a prickly personality, and a non-stop swagger that the Globe’s Cathal Kelly artfully described as underlying almost 20 years of perpetual, low level war with the Lakers – his only ever professional team (remarkable itself in the hyper-free agency era). An alleged 2003 sex assault that was resolved with lots of money, and Kobe’s then carefully phrased contrition also contribute to how Kobe the man must be remembered.

Yet … like Tiger Woods and his searingly stark personal problems of years ago, these serious off court troubles humanized Kobe for me. He moved ever upwards towards basketball’s supreme heights – a baller God, in the end. His strong support for women’s basketball, award-winning film projects, children’s books, and an obvious love of family … when his helicopter crashed last Sunday, Kobe was more a rounded, Renaissance man, than retired jock – who knows what he might have accomplished? Only 41 …

And I mourn him, too.