On Sunday when my buddy texted me that Kobe Bryant had died, I almost started to cry.
And I am not one who cries. I wish I did. Damn it feels good. But for some reason whenever I get to the verge, whenever I feel the tears start to well up inside me, something stops it dead in its tracks.
Yet Sunday, when I checked ESPN to confirm my buddy’s text, a knot formed in my throat. I was shocked. How was I alive, and Kobe Bryant wasn’t.
Theatre wasn’t my first dream.
It was close. But, it wasn’t first.
No my first dream was to be in the NBA!
I’ll wait for the laughter to die down in the back.
It was a dream that started on a drive way on Pennwood Lane. It was nurtured by my imagination. I was the hero, hitting last second shots in the Dean Dome. I was the villain, silencing the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium with a dagger three just as time expired. On that concrete, in front of the ranch house off State Park Road, I was Larry Bird. I was Kevin McHale. I was JR Reid. I was Dominique Wilkins and Mark Price. I was the incredible Georgia Tech trio of Lethal Weapon 3. I was coach and announcer. Fan and player. Perhaps that was my first training in creating worlds that weren’t my own.
The dream continued. Furthered by YMCA’s and church gymnasiums. Fueled by weeklong basketball camps on college campuses where I worked on my game and tried not to use the communal bathroom for seven straight days.
And I was ok. Emphasis on average. I was pretty good at driving to the basket. My jump shot was a’ight. I hustled and could rebound but at the same time I wasn’t super tall so what good was that going to do me? I made the 9th grade team but didn’t play very much. My sophomore year I played JV and once scored 14 points in a game against Travelers Rest in what can only be considered the highlight of my athletic career.
By that time I had found theatre. Like really found it. While basketball was fun and all, I didn’t see the point in winning and losing. In the grand scheme of things who cared if we beat Greenville High? I was now obsessed with what made Romeo fall in love with Juliet. Why were Didi and Gogo waiting for Godot. What made Treplev blow his brains out at the end of The Seagull.
As my dreams of NBA stardom faded, Kobe Bryant entered the zeitgeist.
We were basically the same age. He was born in August of 1978 and I was born in July. We graduated high school the same year. While I went to the College of Charleston to study theatre, he went to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers.
And while my days wanting to play basketball were firmly in my rear view mirror, for some reason that I’ll never fully understand, I always compared my life to Kobe’s.
Often with disappointing results.
But now he was dead. Did that mean I won? I recognized that thought as insane, but it was the first thing that crossed my mind. He was dead, I was still here.
What does that even mean?