Remembering Kobe and one man’s dreams

by Gary Shelton on January 27, 2020

in general

Monday, 4 a.m.

He was intelligent. He was fluid. He was charismatic.

But as much as anything else, Kobe Bryant was a dreamer.

It was in the 2012 Olympics when Bryant, the former Lakers' star who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, sat on small stage in a corner of London reserved for the Olympics. He was talking about his current team, and of the famous Michael Jordan-led team of 1992.

His team could beat that one, he said.


Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!

Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on

Now, I've never been one to scoff at the confidence of a professional athlete. Heck, that confidence is one reason they're so darned good at what they do. But it was hard not to smile as Bryant spoke. Heck, that '92 team was the Dream Team, a team with 11 Hall of Famers on it. It destroyed opponents -- who admittedly weren't anywhere as good as the competition that Bryant and his teammates faced. It was Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley and John Stockton and the gang. No one beat that team.

This team? With Bryant and LeBron James and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? It was talented. But it wasn't the dream team. Not if a normal person was doing the dreaming.

Still, Bryant insisted it could beat the Dream Team. Yeah, I wrote. Maybe once in a seven-game series. Maybe twice in a 27-game series.

It was early in the Games, one of those days that you fill with interviews. So a couple of us showed up at a small theater. I got there early, and I claimed a spot near the stage in front of Bryant, one of the best talkers on the team.

Eventually, the room filled with international reporters. You know how it works. The Belgian in the 10th row pushes hard into the back of the Russian in the ninth row, who is jammed into the back of the Spaniard in the eighth row. He infringes on the Indian in the seventh row, who is busy holding is tape recorder over the shoulder of a Bolivian in the sixth row. That guy is shoving up against the Australian in the fifth row, who is tailgating the Nigerian in the fourth row, who should have assault charges filed against him by the Italian in the third row. That guy is bodying up to the Brit on the second row, who makes it a personal goal to get inside of my rib cage. Sometimes, you aren't as smart as you think you are by seizing the first row.

So Kobe talked about how much the Olympics mean even to a rich athlete. Personally, I had always been a skeptic. A discus thrower who puts four years into the Games seems to be more committed than a basketball player who started to think about the Olympic only once the NBA season ends.

It's hard to get a good run of questioning going when the media is a throng. Everyone shouts out their questions, and the writers step all over each other. Still, I was sort of a pest. I kept asking about pro athletes and their love of the games. Bryant kept insisting that it mattered to him, too.

But Bryant gave me something to think about. When it comes to competition, a man's bank account is a small factor. It's about team and country and drive and desire.

Bryant's team won the tournament in London, and when he kissed his gold medal, it seemed as genuine as any athlete in the games. He had accomplished something worth having; isn't that the point.

When it comes to the Olympics, I can be archaic. I loved growing up in the age of amateurism, when the Olympics were the No. 1 goal for an athlete, and where the money was small. In those days, being an Olympian required a great degree of sacrifice.

But these days, everyone is rich: Swimmers, gymnasts, tennis players, track stars. I once compared Shaq O'Neal to a hammer-thrower named David Popejoy, who had finished 16th one year and was darned proud of it. O'Neal had a movie coming out; Popejoy couldn't afford to go to a movie.

Times change, however. This was no longer the days of Eleanor Holm (I interviewed her, too. Charming lady. I think she liked me more than she did her co-star in that Tarzan movie.)

I'll be honest. Bryant wasn't one of my favorite players. He had been charged with rape in 2003. After such a charge, you never really know the heart of a player.

Still, I was the one who approached the stage for the interview. If that makes me less than who I am, I apologize.

But there was a conviction in Bryant that day. He helped convince me that, in this modern day, there is room for professional athletes in the Olympics, that their dreams are no less valid than those of a weightlifter or a shooter.

He was smart. He was gifted. He had the great smile.

I'm sorry he's gone.

See you in my dreams, Kobe.

Previous post:

Next post: