Courier sports columnist Bill Neal met Kobe Bryant in Cleveland in 1997

by Bill Neal, For New Pittsburgh Courier

While it has been said countless times in the past 72 hours, there truly are no words to express the loss of Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant to the world. His tragic death will create a tsunami-size rippling effect the like of which the sports world has not witnessed since the shocking death of Roberto Clemente in 1972. But as we know, we all will pass that way at some point. To which I will do my best to pay my respect.

As I’ve said to you on numerous occasions, I have had many great opportunities and have met many great sports personalities in my career…but clearly not at all because of who I am…but rather because of what I do. That being said, you know my relationship with the late, great Connie Hawkins and Kenny Durrett…and thanks to my good friend and brother Ron Carter who played for the Lakers, he was able to get tickets for Connie, Kenny and me to the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland in 1997. It was Kobe’s second year in the NBA and in grand fashion he won the slam dunk contest. Long story short, I met Kobe, along with other superstars of the game like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Bob Lanier. The fact that he took 30 seconds of his time to shake my hand and have a word with me will never be forgotten!!!

Before we get to the acknowledgements of his illustrious basketball career, let’s be reminded of a few things. He spoke three languages fluidly and won an Academy Award for best animated short film.

Now, to Bryant’s accomplishments on the court: Five-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010); Two-time NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010); NBA MVP (2008); 18-time NBA All-Star (1998, 2000-2016); Four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011); 11-time All-NBA First Team/two-time All-NBA Second Team/two-time All-NBA Third Team; Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist.

Needless to say this could go on for another hour or so but I’ll end the stat countdown with this…nevermind the double nickel against Patrick Ewing and the Knicks at the Garden, and let’s not talk about the 60 points he scored in his last NBA game against the Utah Jazz at age 37… let’s leave with this—81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, second only to Wilt’s 100 point game.


(P.S. My Super Bowl prediction for this Sunday, Feb. 2: Chiefs win big over the 49ers.)


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