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Archive for January 26, 2020

Jan. 26, 2020 — A meeting with Kobe

Back in the late fall lf 1996, our newspaper office received a phone call.

Our NBA writer called in sick. I was in the office that afternoon when my boss received the news.

I saw an opportunity.

“l’ll do it.”

It was a short drive from our office to The Core States Center, the basketball arena for the Philadelphia 76ers. But it was a different world from most other sports events I have ever attended.

I had covered scattered Philadelphia Wings lacrosse games in the past, as well as to provide an “atmosphere” story for the Trenton Thunder as the team played one of its early games in a cavernously empty Veterans’ Stadium.

But this was an NBA game between the host Sixers and the Los Angeles Lakers. This was a game involving a number of future Hall-of-Famers including Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and the teenage son of former Sixer Joe Bryant.

After a performance during which the young Kobe Bryant showed flashes of his future brilliance, Bryant held court in one of the brand-new locker rooms. He smiled broadly, and you knew he had learned how to work a room.

In another locker across the way, O’Neal attempted to coin a nickname for him. His first attempt that evening: “Showboat.” The name did not stick.

Eventually, he came to be known as “The Black Mamba,” so named for the venomous African snake.

Bryant eventually would win five NBA titles, two Olympics, and 18 All-Star Game appearances. He also expanded basketball around the globe with frequent visits overseas as well as his adoption of the number 10 for international games, the number always given to star soccer players.

Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven others died this morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. Outpourings of grief from around the basketball community came from around the world.

As much of a tragedy this helicopter crash is, it must be remembered that Bryant, for all his brilliance on the court, his record is mixed off it. He was a product of the Southern California celebrity society that yielded countless tales and stories of sexual assault and abuse of authority that eventually culminated in the birth of the Me Too Movement in 2017.

Back in 2003, Bryant was a part of the consequences, years before the Me Too wave enveloped Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey and John Hockenberry. Bryant was alleged to have lured a woman to a hotel room in Colorado. He was tried on rape and sexual assault charges, but the accuser dropped all charges in a sudden last-minute reversal.

Somehow, I don’t think Bryant would have gotten off all that easy if the same thing happened in the last two years.

Jan. 26, 2020 — Netherlands 9, USA 0

The U.S. women’s field hockey team, to its credit, did not commit the cardinal sin of giving up a goal in the first five minutes of the game.

Instead, the States’ defense was solved at the 5:25 mark, as Holland forward Felice Alberts received a cross-field pass in an enormous wedge of space on the right wing, and, while on her knees, guided the ball into the cage with the stick parallel to the ground.

As you might expect, a developmental U.S. team, without several of its best players and less than a week removed from the death of assistant Larry Amar and the retirement of captain Kat Sharkey, lost 9-0 to the world No. 1-ranked Netherlands.

It was the most lopsided defeat for the U.S. since a 9-0 loss to England at the 1956 International Federation of Women’s Hockey Association tournament, the precursor to the current FIH World Cup.

This FIH game, held this afternoon at Karen Shelton Stadium, counts double because Friday’s opener was cancelled out of respect for Amar’s sudden passing. Everyone on the pitch today wore a black band on their forearm.

While the U.S. now falls behind in the FIH Pro League table, there are still plenty of games to be played in order to improve as a group. The first relegation for Pro League last-place teams won’t occur until the end of the 2022 cycle, which is why, I think, USA Field Hockey is willing to give a lot of slack to this group to make mistakes and learn from them.