Kobe Bryant dreamt big. Or at least that was what came across strongly as we settled on the sofa at the plush offices of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) Headquarters at Almas Towers in the last week of September 2013.
Having nestled his nearly two-metre frame, he broke into that warm smile as he put his hand over my shoulder with the words “so, what can I say to you today?”
That did it. Unbaffled, and not in the least perturbed with my questions, Kobe answered everything — from his early love for basketball to his ambition of winning that elusive sixth NBA crown.
I quite distinctly remember asking him — although with a bit of hesitation — about his 2003 ‘fling with the 19-year-old from Eagle, Colorado’. Kobe was not at all hassled with the query. He maintained a straight face with honesty written all over and admitted that it “had been a mistake”. All along he spoke in earnest of how he had “battled the forces within and without”.
As we came to the end of the interview in Dubai, Kobe inquired: “Don’t you want anything from me?”, to which I coyly pulled out a Kobe replica and asked him to sign it for my older son. “To Elmer — Kobe” he wrote as we shook hands and parted. It was my only interaction with the legend but one I shall cherish forever
Living life on his own terms
But, here Kobe stood as a man, who was true and fragile at the same time. And yet, he had managed to hold his head high with the belief that he had already atoned for his past mistakes. He came across as someone who loved life, and lived it on his terms. He had the courage to admit his mistakes and reconcile that he was only human.
The youngest of three children and the only son of former NBA player, Joe Bryant, Kobe saw himself as an enigma growing up with an enduring love for basketball. Following his father’s retirement, the Bryant family moved to Reiti, Italy where the future Lakers and US shooting guard continued chasing his dreams of playing professional basketball. After two years, the Bryants moved to Reggio Calabria, and then on to Pistoia and Reggio Emilia with Kobe getting accustomed to his new lifestyle while learning to speak Italian.
Growing up, the Lakers were his favourite team with his grandfather mailing him videos of NBA games. Being in Italy, Kobe also began playing football, choosing AC Milan as his favourite team. But, he never stopped his basketball dream while travelling back to the US to play in a basketball league during the summers.
Huge draw in Dubai
Curiously Kobe decision to visit this part of the world, closer to his retirement may perhaps have been deliberate. He was one of the few top-class athletes having a majority of his huge fan base in Asia. But, when he descended at a packed DMCC Headquarters, the UAE was present in huge numbers to welcome him.
Organised by Maven Marketing and Events with Gulf News as one of its main partners, the weekend in Dubai, titled ‘The Kobe Bryant Health and Fitness Weekend’ was in support of diabetes awareness, and was a huge draw with the legend showing all signs of enjoying every second of his first-ever trip to the Middle East. He attended an exhibition match with his Team Mamba against the Real Madrid basketball legends at the American University of Dubai (AUD).
For the first time-ever, the UAE got a true taste of someone who had transcended legendary status while engaging with everyone as a fine human being. Kobe didn’t hesitate to make it memorable, both for himself and for many of his adoring fans. He had all the time reaching out, touching people and engaging himself during his two days in the country.
Here was a man of simplicity and decency. Here was someone who believed in humanity and the ability to reach out. Here was a person who could touch lives — and he did so in a way that belonged entirely to him. Kobe left a mark and a huge imprint on the psyche of the UAE, possibly and definitely, stoking the dreams of many a youngster.
Time is a great healer. As people across the globe try and come to terms with such this huge loss, we are taken back to Kobe’s Academy Award-winning film Dear Basketball. Kobe, who voiced the 5.22-minute film that narrates the inspiring story of one little boy living out his basketball dream, observes towards the end: “There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own.”
Perhaps, American animator, author, illustrator and director Glen Keane may have summed it best when he simply said: “It’s a message for all of us,” while accepting the Oscar for Dear Basketball alongside the star in 2018.
As we came to the end of the interview in Dubai, Kobe inquired: “Don’t you want anything from me?”, to which I coyly pulled out a Kobe replica and asked him to sign it for my older son. “To Elmer — Kobe” he wrote as we shook hands and parted. It was my only interaction with the legend but one I shall cherish forever.