Patrick Kinahan: Most hated Jazz foe ends with loving tributes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Love him or hate him, although it is hard to believe Utah Jazz fans fell in the former category during his playing career, Kobe Bryant demanded our attention.

And the NBA superstar got it the hard and proper way. Friend or foe gave him the utmost respect, even if it came begrudgingly through varying degrees of envy.

Around our way, Bryant was easily the most despised opponent ever to battle the Jazz. Not Magic, LeBron or Jordan or anybody else worth generating any emotion came close.

His basketball legacy is forever cemented in our collective memory. Unfortunately, and sadly to the point of beyond words, so is his life, which ended in the helicopter crash that also claimed his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

“There’s certainly a love-hate relationship here in Salt Lake. He beat the Jazz too many times; however, you have respect for the man,” Jazz television analyst Matt Harpring said during the team’s first game since Bryant’s death.

As a player, Bryant possessed rare talent and competitive spirit. His 20-year career all spent with the Los Angeles Lakers included winning five NBA championships, 18 all-star appearances and a regular-season MVP.

Since his death, news media outlets around the world aired Bryant’s countless highlights and recalled his many accomplishments on the court. All those plaudits are at least four years old, accounting for the time he retired from the game.

But there was another side to him that sometimes got obscured behind his basketball brilliance. In and around the game, although far from perfect, Bryant made a difference.

Look no further than Rod Hundley’s last game as the Jazz play-by-play broadcaster against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Without prompting from any media relations person, before the game Bryant made sure to acknowledge the retiring Hundley, who played for the Lakers and also broadcasted their games.

“It meant everything to Hot Rod,” said current broadcaster David Locke, who was sitting along press row next to Hundley. “That’s, I think, actually my biggest memory of the moment, even more so than just how impressed I was with Kobe’s awareness of the moment in time.”


A modern-age player, Bryant also was a historian of the game.

“There’s one thing that is just abundantly clear — Kobe moved the meter for everyone in the game. His presence and his aura had an impact on everyone, including Hot Rod Hundley,” Locke said in an interview on The Zone Sports Network.

As all the tributes have shown, fans around the world adored Bryant. He was that approachable superstar who could mingle with the average fan.

It didn’t hurt that he had a worldliness about him. Spending part of his childhood in Italy, where his father played professional basketball after an NBA career, Bryant was fluent in Italian and also learned Spanish along the way.

Former University of Utah player Pace Mannion, who also played in the NBA before continuing his career in Italy, recalled a time when his young son approached Bryant after a game between the Jazz and the Lakers. Mannion’s son, a native of Italy, spoke Italian to gain Bryant’s attention in the crowd.

Years later, Nico Mannion, now a college player projected to be a lottery pick in this June’s draft, related that Bryant’s kindness has stuck with him. In a recent interview with an Italian broadcast network, Mannion recalled the interaction with the superstar.

“He said in the interview that 10 minutes lasted a lifetime,” said Pace Mannion, who witnessed Bryant’s celebrity status in Italy. “It was obviously something that touched him. If you ever heard Nico talk, it’s always the greatest player to ever live was Kobe Bryant. That’s always been his idol.”

In retirement, Bryant has been anything but bored. In addition to numerous business and philanthropic ventures, he won an Academy Award for best animated short film.

At the time of the helicopter crash, he was on the way to coach a basketball game for his daughter’s team. No wonder he had time for hobbies.

Jazz analyst Michael Smith, who held a similar position with the Los Angeles Clippers during Bryant’s NBA career, spoke with him recently and asked about picking up golf.

Smith said Bryant’s response was: “I don’t have the time to become great at golf. Then he says, ‘There’s too much life to live out there.’ That’s three weeks ago. In other words, there’s a guy, he’s got too much to do, too much he wants to accomplish.”

None of that now will get realized. At 41, Bryant’s life tragically ended.

Perhaps Pace Mannion summed it up best when he said: “It’s just tough to know that second part of his life he’s not going to get to fulfill.”

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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