I was a 14-year-old Los Angeles resident when Kobe Bryant signed with the Lakers. This meant that as a Purple and Gold die-hard I was the recipient of endless gifts throughout my adolescence and early adult years. So when I heard the news of Kobe’s death on Sunday morning, about a billion thoughts and memories slammed my brainwaves like a flash flood. But the ones that kept rising to the top involved my late grandfather, Stan Dorr, better known as Gramps.
Gramps was a World War II veteran with a wit sharp enough to cut a diamond. He had stories. He had jokes. But more than anything — he had cable.
So when Shaq and Kobe began their ascent to the top of the NBA in late 1990s, I’d be over at his house watching home games while devouring the jar of Red Vines that awaited me every time. Licorice and Lakers — it didn’t get much better.
Gramps and I bonded the way millions of Angelenos did in those days. We’d watch Kobe drill a game-winner at the buzzer, or knock down a 28-foot fadeaway, or split three defenders en route to a reverse jam and just marvel.
Eventually, it didn’t matter if the Lakers were playing on cable or on national TV — I was at Gramps’ house regardless.
We were together when Kobe tossed the game-sealing alley-oop to Shaq vs. the Blazers in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. We were together when he jawed back and forth with Allen Iverson in Philly during the Finals in 2001. And were together when he scored 25 vs. the Kings in Game 4 the next year, just before Robert Horry won it with his buzzer-beating three.
Gramps and I wouldn’t have shared those moments if those Laker teams weren’t special. And those Laker teams wouldn’t have been special without the Black Mamba.
These are the achievements I’m guessing most superstars take for granted. They forge bonds between friends and family that may not have otherwise come to be.
About 10 years ago, doctors diagnosed Gramps with esophageal cancer and gave him six months to live. This happened just before I was given an opportunity to cover a Lakers playoff game vs. the Jazz for the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
I declined the courtside offer from my boss, opting instead for a couch and some Red Vines. Easiest decision of my life.
It was impossible to avoid chitchat at Gramps’ house, as he insisted on muting commercials. And ever since legendary Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn died in 2002, anyone who broadcast a game “never knows when to shut up!”
A few minutes into that Lakers-Jazz game, I asked Gramps if he’d started text messaging yet.
“No,” he said. “Have you?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, can you text (Jeff) Van Gundy and tell him to shut up?”
Google says the Lakers won that game by eight, but I don’t remember. I do, however, recall Gramps wondering how Mormons felt about the Jazz having a player named Carlos Boozer, then telling me about how he once offered a church bishop a beer at a Salt Lake City bar.
Those are the memories that count. Those are the memories I’ll always have.
No sports story has shocked me the way news of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter dying in a helicopter crash Sunday did. I think there are hundreds of millions of people around the globe who feel the same way.
A generational talent and seemingly indestructible force is gone at 41, and, man … it’s eerie just writing that.
We’re not supposed to quote the competition around here, but now isn’t the time to be petty. One tweet that stood out to me Sunday came from Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, who said “squeeze the ones you love — every time you can.”
If there’s a silver lining we can manufacture from this tragedy, it should be in that spirit. We truly never know when our latest moment with someone could be the last one, so we should make as many moments as we can.
I’m grateful for every minute I spent with my Gramps, and I’m grateful to Kobe for bringing us closer. I’ll cherish memories of Mamba, and as a token of gratitude, make sure to cherish those I love most.
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