Growing up in Burbank, CA, I idolized Kobe Bryant.
I fell in love with sports — basketball in particular — at a very young age and some of my earliest memories are sitting on the couch with my dad and watching Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal dominate the league to the tune of three straight championships.
They were the reason I started playing basketball and wanted to become a YMCA Jr. Laker at six-years-old and to this day, they are still the reason that basketball is a big part of my life writing for Lakers Nation.
From the time I was eight, I remember asking — begging — my parents to allow me to go to Kobe’s camp over the summer. It was pretty expensive (it was Kobe’s camp after all) so every year, the answer was a firm no.
After about five years of begging, my parents finally surprised me on my birthday in 2008 and that summer, my best friend Alec and I finally got to go to Kobe Camp.
It was five days at Loyola Marymount and it was the first and only time I ever went to a sleep-away camp. That meant for five straight days during the day and at night, I was able to just play basketball.
To me, the coolest part was that it wasn’t like a lot of other NBA players’ camps where they would show face for an hour or two and that was it. Kobe was there every day working with kids — both boys and girls — of all ages to help us improve as basketball players. It was nonstop basketball and a chance to meet Kobe. I loved every second of it.
This was one of the happiest days/weeks of my life. Today is one of the saddest. pic.twitter.com/ncvRGVpb8A
— Daniel Starkand (@DStarkand) January 26, 2020
One of the highlights for me was the very first night. Kobe brought a bunch of his Lakers teammates like Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, and Adam Morrison as well as some younger college players like James Harden and O.J. Mayo where they played a game in the LMU gym for all of us to watch.
I sat on the baseline — literally inches from the court — and watched Kobe give all of them work. Most of the players didn’t take it all that seriously considering it was just a pickup game in front of a bunch of kids. But not Kobe. By the look of Kobe’s face, you wouldn’t have known if it was a pickup game in the offseason or Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He scored about 40 points, consistently abusing Luke and Sasha and we all loved every second of it.
That was the best part of the camp. However, on the next night came the worst… or so I thought at the time. We were all staying in the LMU dorms and some bold kids thought it would be a good idea to holler at every student that walked by from about 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Some of the comments were very inappropriate and eventually, the counselors got mad enough that they threatened all of us they would call Kobe down here if it continued. Being a group of kids, no one took them seriously… and boy was that a mistake.
The next thing we knew, we were all in the parking lot at 2 a.m. running suicides, doing push-ups, and sit-ups as Kobe yelled at us at the top of his lungs. Some kids were crying, others were still kind of laughing, I was just thinking about how [expletive] crazy it was to be 13 years old and running suicides in a parking lot in the middle of the night at Kobe Bryant Basketball Camp. Like… who else would do that to teach a lesson to a bunch of kids that were goofing off other than Kobe?
I’m not going to make up a story about how that night instilled a crazy work ethic in me, but I will say that Kobe is a big reason I do have the work ethic that I have today. Through the ‘Mamba Mentality,’ he taught me that to get to where you want to be, you need to put in the work that others won’t. And that pain is temporary, but legacy is forever.
The last week certainly hasn’t been easy, but it has been truly beautiful to see the city of Los Angeles and the world come together to grieve the loss of Kobe, Gianna Bryant and the seven other lives that were lost in that helicopter crash.
Hearing all of the different Kobe stories have made me cry, but they have also made me smile knowing that he impacted so many other lives the way he did mine. I hadn’t thought about that camp in a long time but looking back, I can honestly say that was one of the best weeks of my life. Not a care in the world, just playing the game that I love while watching my idol up close.
Thank you for that and all of the other memories, Kobe.