Kobe & Me
Just two fellas who share the same birth year and a passion for basketball
So it seems like a good day to share a quick story about Kobe and me.
Declaring our intentions
In 1996, as I graduated from high school, they lined up all the seniors to tell the audience (of parents) what they were doing after graduation. People named the colleges they'd be attending, the jobs they'd be starting, or the travel they had planned.
I took the opportunity to announce my eligibility for the NBA Draft.
Kobe Bryant, somewhere in Pennsylvania and also graduating that year, did the same thing.
He was drafted #13, and though I surprisingly went undrafted, we both moved to Los Angeles in the fall.
I became a business major at Pepperdine University, and he joined (checks notes) the LA Lakers.
“Do you own a tuxedo?”
Twenty years later, almost to the day—June 9, 2016—I got a call in my office.
"Do you own a tux? And can you be in Hollywood by 5 PM sharp?"
It’s moments like that when I remember that scene from Ghostbusters: “If someone asks if you’re a god, SAY YES!”
Sarah Harden, who had negotiated the acquisition of my company a year prior, called to invite me to join her at an AT&T-sponsored table at an "AFI Lifetime Achievement Award" event. I didn't even know who it was for.
“You can’t be late. The show starts at 5 PM and they’re filming it.”
I jammed home and put on my tux, jumped in the car and RACED to Hollywood & Highland. It was at the Kodak Theater -- the same location for the Oscars. It's a massive venue, seating for thousands.
I parked my car in the structure with just eight minutes to spare.
"Five PM sharp."
I ran, in my full tuxedo, to the front entry. Gave my name and got in the door. They said table #3. I had time for one question:
“Who is this event honoring?”
Two minutes to spare. No time to revel in how cool this is. No time to think about John Williams’ career. No time to hit the bathroom.
“Don’t be late.”
I ran through the open theater doorway into…. a completely empty room. EMPTY.
It was decorated, and set up with hundreds of round tables, but not a guest in sight. Just dozens of ushers ready for the crowds.
Everyone was still at the bar. They were running late.
I could have joined them, but I am a good boy and obey the rules.
I walked inside. Told the ushers I was at table #3. They kept pointing me toward the front.
Table #3 was 10 feet from the stage. AT&T knows how to do it.
There were a dozen tables in the front area, but not one guest yet.
So I sat down, alone, at table #3, and checked my phone. Skimmed some emails.
From the corner of my peripheral vision, I saw someone put their hands on a chair. Just two seats away from me. My table.
I didn’t look up, finishing the little email I needed to send.
I stood up, put my phone down, reached out my hand to shake hands, and THEN looked up to see who it was.
You already guessed it.
It was Kobe Bryant.
He was tall and sharp. He was equal parts famous but familiar. He was unbelievably funny, kind, curious, and engaged.
And, turns out, when you honor John Williams, lots of celebrities show up. At the tables around me: JJ Abrams, Drew Barrymore, Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and dozens more. The theater was full of Hollywood royalty.
And yet, Kobe was the biggest celebrity in the room that night.
It was 57 days after his final NBA game, in which he scored 60 points. In this moment, he was more legend than man. He was a hero. He was myth.
And every person in the room—star or no—made sure to stop by our table and shake his hand or pat him on the back. A parade of celebrity A-listers made their way to our table to take a photo.
I was no different:
Meeting and hanging out with Kobe that night was undoubtedly a highlight.
But John Williams’ own words — at the end of his acceptance speech — is the thing that stays with me:
“Thank you for all these kind words and this great honor. I will wake up each morning and try my best to deserve it”
Four years later, Kobe died a tragic and early death. My same age. A dad of girls.
It’s almost too much to take.
And yet it’s John Williams’ words that help me make sense of it.
Wake up each day and try to deserve it.
Statue or no.
Status or no.
Whatever goodness you’re lucky to have.
Try to deserve it.
John Williams’ speech
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