Women's Watch: Kobe's death opened my eyes to the man he had become

  • Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Gianna also died in the crash. She was 13.

    Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna watch during the U.S. national championships swimming meet in Irvine, Calif. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Gianna also died in the crash. She was 13. Associated Press File Photo/July 26, 2018

 
 
Updated 1/31/2020 6:25 PM

While Kobe Bryant was playing in the NBA, I was never a huge fan.

Michael Jordan was my guy.

 

Through middle school, high school and college, I grew up faithfully watching MJ and the Bulls and, to this day, there's no convincing me anyone in history is better at basketball than MJ. Not Kobe. Not LeBron. Not Steph Curry. Not Magic nor Larry.

When Kobe Bryant was starting out in the NBA and was drawing countless comparisons to Jordan, I scoffed. And that never changed, even as Kobe got older and better.

I saw Kobe Bryant as a Jordan copycat, and as a bit of an arrogant one at that. I also never understood the tension and weird dynamics between him and Shaquille O'Neal.

Of course, the rape charges against Bryant in 2003 that were ultimately dismissed and then settled privately did him no favors in my book.

In the wake of Bryant's death in a horrible helicopter crash in California, my outlook has changed. A lot.

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I am really appreciating the man that Kobe became while I wasn't paying much attention.

I am really appreciating his seemingly genuine support of women's athletics, and of his daughters' athletic endeavors.

Perhaps that was his way of trying to redeem himself in the eyes of the world after 2003, particularly in the eyes of women. And I think that's OK. In fact, I think it's very admirable. We all deserve the chance at redemption.

By now, we all know that Bryant was on that helicopter with his daughter Gigi and some people associated with her travel basketball team. They were en route to a tournament for the team, in which Bryant was one of the coaches.

But Bryant wasn't just a proud #girldad, doing what so many #girldads do (coaching, teaching and supporting) when they have daughters who like sports. Bryant also became an outspoken advocate for women's sports and female athletes. He seemed to genuinely like women's sports and also seemed conscious of the positive influence he could have with other men by speaking out about it and by being seen supporting women's sports publicly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bryant frequently attended WNBA games and women's college basketball games. He often tweeted support and words of encouragement to female athletes at all levels, in all sports. He was a big Serena Williams fan, he loved the U.S. Women's national soccer team that won the World Cup last summer. And he let everyone know it via Twitter.

He was giving back to women in the best way he knew, and trying to redeem himself the best way he knew.

I'm also fascinated by some of the routines that Bryant practiced in his private life, another clear indication to me he was trying to be a changed man, a better man.

I did not know that Bryant, a Catholic, attended Mass every day. Every single day. He reportedly attended Mass with his daughter Gigi the morning they died.

Bryant also wrote children's books, spoke frequently at schools and kids camps, and he created a gym for kids.

I'm still a huge Jordan fan. I always will be.

But I like what I know now about Kobe Bryant. I'm just sorry it took an event like this for me to understand the good man and the good person Bryant had become.

Count me in as a fan.

R.I.P., Kobe.

• Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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