Mamba Out, In Fond Farewell
February 24, 2020

In a public tribute to the most public of figures, you would certainly expect a star studded event. Beyonce sang, Jimmy Kimmel cracked one-liners, and stars from sports and Hollywood collided. They were there to honor Kobe Bryant and his 13 year-old daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash almost a month ago. You would expect moving speeches and tributes, but what you wouldn't expect, was how straight to the heart the entire experience would be.

The Celebration of Life at Staples Center opened like an awards show. You figured it would probably be tasteful, but you probably also had some doubts. This had 'over the top' written all over it. Beyonce and Jimmy Kimmel? Really? Kimmel, though, was not out there to get laughs. He tried to lighten the mood, sure, but almost broke down when talking about the Bryant family. Then, when Vanessa Bryant spoke, first in glowing memory of her daughter Gigi, and then her soulmate Kobe, you had to watch. She was not a show biz woman, and getting through a eulogy like that in front of thousands of people, and with millions watching on TV, was amazing.

The tributes that followed, in their own ways, were even better. All-time WNBA leading scorer Diana Taurasi spoke of her idolizing Kobe and wanting to be a Laker, and Gianna's drive and desire to eventually play professional basketball. Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu spoke of her friendship with the Bryants, how Kobe would make her a better a player, and how much Kobe loved coaching his daughter. Some of the funniest lines actually came from University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Gino Auriemma. Gianna wanted to play at UConn, and Kobe asked him for coaching advice. This from the most uncoachable player of them all, Auriemma quipped.

If you could call it a keynote speech, next was Kobe's former agent and current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. His 18-minute tribute detailed Kobe the best friend, Kobe the dad, and Kobe the husband. Pelinka's story about Kobe and Vanessa, was that Kobe was away on a long trip, missed his wife and daughters, and had a piano in his hotel suite. He didn't know how to play it, but taught himself, by ear, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, so he could play it for his wife when he got home. A musical interlude with Alicia Keys playing the Moonlight Sonata followed.

Tributes from Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal closed the event. Jordan said, “a piece of me died”, when he learned of Bryant's passing, but also got a loud roar when, in tears, said that Kobe “got him” for making him cry on national television. While Kobe was often compared to Jordan, Bryant and O' Neal were known to not get along while they were Laker teammates. Shaq said they both respected each other. On Kobe's reputation for not passing the ball, O' Neal recounted giving Bryant the “There's no I in team” speech one time. Kobe reportedly replied, “No, but there's M-E.” Shaq followed that with an F-bomb on live TV, but the crowd was laughing.

Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Rusell were all there along with many others. There was Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Steve Nash, and even the obligatory shot of Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez. Christina Aguilera performed a final song. CNN and NBA-TV had live coverage. ESPN carried the first few minutes, then made you go to their app to watch the rest. Los Angeles stations were all over it. It was a memorial service with a Hollywood touch, but what would you expect, especially in Los Angeles? Kobe Bryant always had a flare for the dramatic, and always wanted things done right. That's exactly what he got.

Stealing signs. Literally: Unless you are from Houston, or think James Rodney Richard, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio are the greatest players of all time, there is absolutely no reason in the world to root for the Houston Astros. This is an organization that can't handle anything right. It's not just the trash can in 2017, but last week's 'apology tour' was an abomination, and then things got worse. New manager Dusty Baker told reporters that his players are going to hear it from fans and others, and are going to have to get past it. Then he held every single starting player out of their spring opener against Washington. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman were there, but just sat. In the same game, fans brought signs, with no foul language on them, condemning the Astros for their actions. They were confiscated by ushers.

On the air: Besides watching to see the Astros, their debacle continuing, and any possible retribution, 29 other teams have also begun their spring training schedule. MLB Network's coverage started Saturday—airing 217 games in 32 days, 61 of them live. The telecasts are from local markets, so teams that televise a lot, like the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, Nationals, and Phillies will be featured most prominently. All but seven of the Dodgers spring game will air on MLBN, although many of them will be tape delayed.

Radio silence: If you read the news release, it sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it's actually sad. The Oakland A's do not have a flagship radio station in the Bay Area this year, settling instead for something they call 'A's cast', which is a fancy way of saying their radio is online only. Fortunately, that broadcast will be picked up by radio stations in other markets, including KHTK (1140 AM) in Sacramento. The A's have traditionally had a strong radio network, but can't seem to find a radio home in the immediate area where they play.

Stupid tribute: I was in a convenience store today, and walking down the candy aisle (as I too often do), there was a candy I hadn't seen before. It wasn't chocolate, so I otherwise would have ignored it, but it was fruit flavored, very much like Starburst. It was called Mamba. I had to buy it.

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