by Marcus Harrison Green
Tears aren’t supposed to shed so hard for someone you’ve never met.
At least I believed that before today.
But not everyone helped me love my younger brother Antonio the way I do now.
I cried with him on the phone this afternoon after news reports confirmed that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash, along with the 41-year-old’s daughter Gianna, and seven others.
Kobe had, of course, been Antonio’s childhood idol, as he was to anyone with NBA dreams born between the late 90s and present day. Even for someone who routinely rooted against him on the court like myself, it was impossible to go unawed by his Sofonisba Anguissola-type artistry with a basketball, a work ethic shaming the entire profession of carpentry, and a swagger reserved for celestial luminaries.
The shock of his death struck like an acid shower on a cloudless day. We’d just watched a smiling Kobe give heartfelt praise to Lebron James the day before, after the current NBA superstar passed Bryant for third place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
For a man whose critics claimed had an obsessive, almost narcissistic mentality to be seen as the undisputed best to ever play basketball –– at least, early in his career –– with little regard for others, it was profound to witness his evolution. He now seemed to view a profession where grown men get paid to play a game in its proper context as an auxiliary to this much more vital thing we call life.
Which is why for all his complicated legacy, and the re-examining of the controversies that marred his career off the court including a sexual assault allegation in 2003 (charges were later dropped after the woman accusing him of rape reportedly declined to testify), and the tributes set to run about him – the game-winning buzzer beaters, the crowd-erupting slam dunks, and the five NBA championships, along with temporary euphoria, he brought to the city of Los Angeles – his most indelible moment for me is one he could never have possibly known.
My brother Antonio permanently came into my life when I was 14 years old, years after my older siblings had moved out of the house. Technically my cousin, my parents officially adopted him after it became evident they were the best providers of the structure and stability he needed at the time.
Like most young teens accustomed to the exclusivity of their parents love and attention, they were something I refused to share and found myself resisting this new reality. Life would never be as it was and I fully resented it.
As a loner in high school, my mother and father had been the one source of consistent affirmation about my self-worth. And I believed I was saying goodbye to them.
For the first few months whenever I walked into the house, I’d ignore Antonio, and his own struggles to adapt into a new normal. Every time he’d initiate a conversation I’d fire back with a curt response. I’d talk over him, around him, at him, but never with him.
Being a hormonally charged teenager, racked with raging insecurities, and already finding it hard to fit in at school meant my home territory was sacred.
But that territory became less a perdition of my making, once basketball slowly became a topic of conversation between us.
Our sustained discussions began over who was the best in the NBA. His champion was Kobe, mine Allen Iverson. As reluctant as I had been to speak to him, I couldn’t let my own idol’s honor go undefended.
The temperature of our conversations gradually turned from subzero to affable. I remember the laughter layering our good-natured arguing over who was better based on height, weight, and “intestinal fortitude.” And as Iverson’s star started to dim on the basketball scene, our talks begin to mimic 95 percent of basketball-related ones that took place in any Black barbershop during the mid-2000s:
One side fawning over Kobe’s exploits as the greatest to ever lace up a pair of sneakers, and the other pointing out the pimples dotting his “flawless” performances on the court.
For us, those conversations eventually turned into ones about our interior lives. Specifically, ones about how it is you become to survive in this life when it seems no one wants you or accepts you as you are, whether an alienated teen or an adoptee.
And whether we were on the basketball court, in front of the television watching the Lakers play on Christmas day, or chatting after one of his middle school games when he’d done his best to conjure up a performance that would make his idol pride, Kobe was always the gateway to those conversations.
Conditioned early on by this world to muffle our emotions so we can adopt societal definitions of “men”, conversations around sports are used as a roundabout for many of us to express what we wish we could say outright: I love you. You’re not alone. I’m here for you. Thank you for loving and being here for me.
I said those words to Antonio this afternoon without hesitation.
Neither of us afraid to cry, to be vulnerable, to be open, to be honest. Neither of us able to forget the man who contributed to our ability to love one another as brothers.
Thank you, Kobe.
Marcus Harrison Green is the founder of the Emerald and a former reporter for The Seattle Times