Sarasota High star pays homage to Kobe Bryant
She met him for her 12th birthday.
As part of her gift, Sarasota High girls basketball junior guard Cheyenne Stubbs got the opportunity to be a ball girl at an Orlando Magic game. Stubbs didn't care about the Magic, but she was thrilled by the opportunity anyway. The Magic were hosting the Los Angeles Lakers that night, and Stubbs was a Lakers fan, mostly because of one player, her hero, Kobe Bryant.
Stubbs recalled the memory through tears on Monday, a day after Bryant, 41, was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, alongside eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant. Stubbs said most of the memory is a blur, but she did get to meet Bryant before the game. She was starstruck and didn't say much, she said, but Bryant was kind to her.
Before the Sailors' game against North Port High on Monday, Stubbs wore a Bryant jersey during warm-ups. It had a picture of him on the front, his name on the back. It was her way of honoring the player who meant so much to her.
"He was just the greatest," Stubbs said. "Everything he did was awesome, even his last game, dropping 60 points. I was always watching him. I try to implement his mentality, that 'mamba mentality.' He hated to lose, just like I do. I hope everyone carries on his legacy. I know I am going to try and be just like him so I can leave a mark, too."
I don't usually get nervous while writing columns. I'm comfortable sharing my opinion with the world. I'm nervous writing this column, though. Not because of any potential response, but because it's forcing me to confront my own feelings about Bryant. Since hearing the news on Sunday in my apartment — I doubt I'll ever forget where I was — I have been thinking about him and his legacy. I vividly remember staying up late and watching highlights of his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. I remember watching him and thinking it should be impossible for someone to have his athletic ability and his absolute refusal to concede a game was over. For young NBA fans, it is easy to see why he was so inspiring, why he became more myth than man.
It is also impossible to forget Bryant's 2003 sexual assault saga, both the criminal case, eventually dropped, and the civil case, in which Bryant settled with his accuser and issued an apology which, in part, read, "After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
No matter what you think of the case, omitting it when remembering him robs Bryant of the growth he made in his later years. He was a vocal supporter of the WNBA and coached Gianna's basketball team. The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation raised money for young athletes in need and partnered with the United Way and local Los Angeles charities to combat child homelessness. Of all the anecdotes that have been relayed since his death, one from ESPN's Elle Duncan is sticking with me the most, about how Bryant loved nothing more than being a "girl dad." In his final moments, he got to do just that.
Humans are messy. We make mistakes all the time, hurtful ones, unthinkable ones. Refusing to acknowledge Bryant's carries on his myth, but he wasn't a myth, he was human like everyone else. The more I time I spend on this planet, the more I believe we should be remembered not solely by our worst or best actions, but by the totality of the lives we live. Bryant's legal history should not be forgotten, but it also doesn't negate how young players like Stubbs and pro players like LeBron James feel about him. Bryant taught a generation of athletes that if they pushed themselves, they could be winners, too, no matter who they are. His on-court legacy will last a long time.
Bryant was 41. He lost the chance to continue making the world a better place for young athletes, and to reckon with his younger self's actions. It's in that sentiment where I think I personally land: Every aspect of the crash is a tragedy. My heart goes out to Vanessa Bryant and his daughters.