WWJD
Photo Credit: Dodgers Blue

 

 

WWJD #31: One Year Later – Kobe Bryant

www.FranchiseSportsMedia.com

 

Kobe was a person I had the pleasure and honor to cover while he played with the Lakers. Much like his career where he wore two numbers, I had the chance to cover him on two different occasions. Once as a young guy just getting into radio and the other right before I moved from California to Las Vegas.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Elle

I covered Kobe Bryant from 2002-2015 while working in sports media in Los Angeles. During that time, I got to know “Bean” and had what I consider a friendship with him. From time to time, we would text each other to see how things were going in our lives.

But last year, on a beautiful Sunday morning in Las Vegas I woke up late that day because I was out the night before due to a business meeting. It was roughly 9:00 am and I started my daily routine, meditation, check the news and say good morning to Jalyssa and our 11-month-old son Karringotn on FaceTime. About halfway through my meditation, I started to receive texts and calls from people I haven’t heard from in a few months. People who I would normally speak to at certain times of the year because of whom they work for or with.

But when my close friend Nick Hamilton of Nightfall Media called me on January 26th, it started what has become a chaotic period in my life. Nick told me that Kobe had been involved in a helicopter crash that took his life. I didn’t want to believe it, but we both saw the TMZ report, and we both said we hoped that it was a hoax or their Twitter account was hacked.

There was NO WAY that my friend, just 41 years old, could be gone. Then the news came that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (GiGi) was with him. The news got worse when Nick called me again and said that seven other people had tragically lost their lives in the helicopter crash. He said that they were headed to the Mamba Cup, a youth basketball tournament being held at the Mamba Academy.

 

As was shocked. I yelled at the top of my lungs, broke down and cried like a baby. This hurt me to my soul, and I was at a loss for words.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: CNN

There was no way that this could be true. Not Kobe. He was finally showing the world the type of person he was. We had all seen the warrior on the court, but not the father and husband he is. I just knew Kobe and GiGi somehow found a way to survive the horrific crash. Somehow he managed to get out of the chopper with GiGi and find a way to a hospital. That was the Kobe I knew. That was the guy who would sit and talk to me after games about life, fatherhood, and of course, basketball.

I called Jalyssa to tell her. I was a wreck. I was in tears and sobbing out of control. She had no idea what had happened, but when I told her she was shocked, like everyone else. At the time she was almost eight months pregnant and we hadn’t thought of a baby name yet, nor did we know our child’s gender. Ironically, we had just talked about Kobe and GiGi being the future of the WNBA a couple of weeks earlier while I was in Fresno visiting her. We both agreed that GiGi would be the face of the league when her time came and that she could go down as the best player in that league like some consider her father is in the NBA.

My phone beeped and it was my son Joey calling, so I got off the phone with her to speak to him. “Dad, Kobe died, are you okay?” my 19-year-old son said to me on the other end. “No son, I’m not” I replied honestly. We talked for a while about it. Joey wasn’t a huge sports fan, but he knew how much certain people I covered or teams mean to me. He was so empathic and understanding, he had a way of being that way. I told him I would call him back later, that I was going to take a shower and go to UNLV for the Rebels versus SDSU game.

I went to the UNLV vs. SDSU game that day, I couldn’t tell you one thing that happened in the game. When I saw a picture of him or GiGi, I broke down, when I heard his voice on TV playing in the background, I broke down. When I talked with my good friend, former UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, and NBA player Marcus Banks at the game, I broke down.

 

One of the reasons why it hurt so bad was because Kobe finally was letting the world into his life. People were starting to see the REAL Kobe Bryant…the husband, the father, the man.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: Instagram

The world had just started to see the Kobe Bryant that I knew. The devoted father, who was loving, caring, and goofy with his close family and friends, and a man who just started to let his guard down for the public. Kobe was dedicated to a lot of causes, including helping find a solution to the homeless problem in Los Angeles, the fine arts, and growing women’s basketball.

In one of our last conversations, Kobe was telling me that he thought GiGi was going to impact women’s basketball the way Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and himself did the NBA. He thought she was the future of the sport and would help grow it and redefine it. GiGi was the “MambaCita” because she was a younger, female version of her father.

If you’re my age and you grew up in Southern California, then Kobe grew up with you and in front of us all. He came to L.A. as a 17-year-old and played 20 seasons in Purple and Gold. We covered or went through the ups and downs and trials and tribulations with him. He was raw, honest, and authentic. I appreciated that. I told him that, and he reciprocated it.

What Kobe meant to the NBA is being seen since his untimely passing, but what he meant to the city of Los Angeles can not be stated enough. Kobe embodied EVERYTHING that is L.A.: hard-working, flashy, sure of himself, determined, unwavering and unapologetic, and most of all, a champion.

After the loss of rapper, philanthropist, and community activist Nipsey Hussle just six months earlier, the loss of Kobe had L.A. hurting beyond words. It felt like the soul of Los Angeles has been ripped out. I can’t imagine what Vanessa, Natalia, Bianca, and Capri are going through.

My heart continues to go out to them. I know how much Kobe loved them, and they love Kobe and GiGi; it was a genuine, REAL love that isn’t seen too often nowadays. The Los Angeles Lakers did a great job honoring him, GiGi, and the seven other lives that were lost. The NBA has also done a great job remembering Kobe since his passing, including naming the NBA All-Star Game MVP trophy after him. But LeBron James and his Lakers teammates paid the ultimate homage to Kobe; they won the team’s 17th title last season.

 

A year later it isn’t any easier. It still feels surreal. The feeling still is painful and raw. It feels like a dream and I want to wake up from it. But sadly, it’s not, and no matter how hurt we feel, it is amplified with the families, loved ones, and friends who were lost in the helicopter crash on January 26th, 2020.

 

WWJD
Photo Credit: NBA

As we honor and mourn the loss of Kobe and GiGi, we also have to keep in perspective how Kobe would want us to live and go on. He’d tell us to “Pick your ass up and kick the day’s ass!” It took TQ to remind me what I already knew; I needed to stop feeling pity for myself, get off my ass, and we need to continue to build our company, Franchise Sports Media, with his Mamba Mentality. It’s what he would have done. We will do it in part to honor you and your memory. It’s how Squeeze and I are built, and Kobe was always been a reminder of that fact for us.

Also, on January 26th, 2020, Jalyssa went into labor and had our second child together. Earlier in the day, I told her that if we had a girl I wanted to name her Gianna, she agreed. But she had the baby when I wasn’t in Fresno, in-fact, it happened so fast I didn’t see the baby until I got there the next day. When she told me we had a boy and that she already named him I knew what name she chose, Kobe.

So while one of the worst days of my life happened on January 26th, it is also one of the best in my life. Like my friend who passed away with his daughter and seven other people, God blessed me with a gift. Kobe Ano Arrigo is a daily reminder that every second of life is precious, to attack life with vigor and unapologetically, and most importantly, stay in the moment, appreciate it, and don’t lose sight of it. I continue to pray for Vanessa, the girls, and the families affected by their loved ones passing.

 

As for me, I will cherish the memories that I have with and of Kobe. I’ll never forget the time Nick Hamilton tweeted out that Kobe and GiGi were at an L.A. Sparks game, shortly after he retired. I replied, “Tell Bean, I said hi, and I miss him!

 

Less than a minute later, I get a FaceTime call from Nick. But instead of Nick calling, it was Kobe on the other end.

He asked where I had been and that he missed me at his final game. I told him I moved to Vegas late in 2015. He said that he did see what I put on social media earlier that day, (I said I hoped he went for 60, hit the game-winning free throws and goes out a winner) “Your ass needs to tell me the Lotto numbers JoJo; I’ll split it with you after we win!” 

We laughed and said that we need to get together when he comes to Vegas, which we did a few times to catch up, share stories of what our families are doing and our future plans. God got his closer in pick-up games, his best father-daughter team, and, most of all, one of his most genuine, authentic people he ever created.

 

I am grateful to have known him and a better person for it. THANK YOU for helping me grow as a reporter, friend, father, and, most importantly, as a better person Bean.

 

 

Peace✌                                

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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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