Date posted: February 2, 2020
The tragic death of legendary NBA player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in the helicopter crash has impacted millions, including this old sportswriter.
I have never been a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. Quite the contrary, I have despised the franchise for as long as I can remember. That’s because of one person—my uncle, the late Alvin R. Spain.
Mama’s only sibling profoundly influenced every facet of my life, from my allegiance to sports teams to the naturalness of a man showing his mate affection in public. He and my aunt, a French beauty named Anne Marie, held hands and kissed like newlyweds without the slightest bit of inhibition. Of course, this urchin blushingly covered my eyes. They could only laugh as I peeped through my fingers.
Uncle Spain was the subject of many columns I wrote as a newspaper sports editor. His alias was Uncle Sportsnut because of his fanaticism for most sports, especially the big three: baseball, football and basketball. He would cuss the heavens when any of his beloved teams got beat, especially the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Boston Celtics.
Now, being the antagonistic little gadfly that I was, my greatest pleasure was to root against most of his favorites. However, his love for the Celtics and their mastery over traditional rival the LA Lakers proved contagious to an impressionable youngster who idolized him.
“You know why the Celtics always beat those pretty boys from LA don’t you?’’ he would ask, chewing on his smokeless pipe. “Because the boys in green are blue collar workers who play defense like their lives depend on it. All the pretty boys do is run up and down the court waving at the crowd.’’
Of course, his assessment was a slight exaggeration, but I bought it hook, line and sinker. His Celtics became my Celtics. His utter hatred for those pretty boys in purple and gold quickly became my mantra, as well.’’
Uncle Sportsnut and I gleefully celebrated every time Boston beat LA, and that was nearly every time they met for the NBA Championship, from the Bill Russell era to the Larry Bird-led run of championship banners. Sportsnut died 17 years before the Celtics’ most recent title with the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett leading the way.
But his spirit was alive and well in a boastful nephew not known for humility in victory.
As much as I loved my heroes in green, I hated the LA stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and, yes, Kobe Bryant. True to his nickname of Black Mamba, Bryant was the most lethal weapon the Lakers employed against my Celtics. It seemed he single-handedly crushed Boston’s hopes of another championship time after time.
Just like Sportsnut, I would be hoarse from yelling in vain at the TV when Kobe went on another scoring run destroying Boston in the process, leaving Celtics fans helpless and hopeless. Man did I hate him.
Let’s be clear, though. My hatred for the Lakers was confined to the basketball court. In fact, I had great admiration for many of the Lakers, especially Jabbar, Magic and Kobe. All of them were great players and difference-makers away from the arena.
Sportsnut never got to see Bryant’s brilliance on the court. He would have loved to hate the Lakers’ star, too. An intellectual himself, he would have also admired and respected the mental acuity possessed by the man Magic proclaimed to be “the greatest Laker ever.’’
Kobe’s tragic death is a reminder to all that a winner in the arena of sports is one thing, but a winner in the arena of life is another more impactful champion. Kobe was the best that sport has to offer, even if he wore the wrong uniform.
We mourn the loss of a great champion and can’t imagine the pain his family must endure over his death and that of his baby girl. The world won’t forget them, for we know that God is forever in control.
That goes for rivals and faithful followers alike. Of that I’m certain Uncle Sportsnut would agree.