“When you think about it, how many athletes have just one name? Start naming them.”
John Burch, assistant coach of the South Pasadena High School boys basketball team, pointed that out this week as he reflected on the passing of Kobe Bryant.
“When you think about it, there aren’t that many that you can say a single name, and everyone knows exactly who you are talking about.”
You didn’t need to say “Bryant.” Just “Kobe” carried the message. Like Michael, or Magic, or Kareem, Kobe was that iconic.
He was a hero to kids coming of age in the 2000s — including kids like Troy Baugh, now assistant coach for the Tigers’ basketball team.
“Outside of going to Lakers games, watching Lakers games, reading anything Kobe ever said in an article, or when he was featured on SLAM magazines, I picked up every single one — anything that had to do with Kobe, I latched onto at a very early age,’’ Baugh said.
“So for me being a basketball player, a kid in [Los Angeles], Kobe was exactly who I wanted to be.”
South Pas’ head basketball coach, Ernest Baskerville, said his fondest memory of Kobe was in 1999 or 2000. At the time, Baskerville was head coach at LACES, and Kobe came up to him and his players while they were at the men’s gym at UCLA.
“Some guys from my team just wanted to go and play in the gym, so we’re up there in the gym and we’re the only ones in there,’’ Baskerville recalled.
“All of a sudden, the door opens and Grant Hill and Kobe Bryant walk in the gym. Grant Hill and Kobe are playing one-on-one. Grant gets a game, Kobe gets a game — they’re going back and forth. Kobe is just relentless wanting to beat him, and at some point, they just sat down and they’re just talking. …
“All of a sudden I felt something on my shoulder and Kobe is tapping me on my shoulder. He said ‘Coach, do you mind if I say something to the guys?’ I said, ‘Yeah, please!’
“He talked to the guys for 20 or 30 minutes and then we all walked out with him. … It was all unsolicited. He came over and talked to the guys. I can never be more grateful for a superstar athlete to talk to my guys. He didn’t have to say anything — they could’ve left. He came over and talked to the guys and I’ll really appreciate that for as long as I’m coaching.”