I’ve heard people go right to Kobe’s most public mistake, as though everything he was and everything he accomplished must be weighed in balance to his public humiliation. I’ve heard people say that Kobe and Vanessa Bryant lived in separate houses behind gates in a Newport Coast community so that no one would know that they weren’t together. I’ve heard people say that Kobe was aloof and “stuck up” and that Vanessa was some kind of a diva.
I’ve heard enough. Now I’m going to speak out.
When it was reported that Kobe and Vanessa were trying to heal their marriage, there was murmured speculation that it was all an act to try to repair his reputation. The truth was that all of us neighbors saw Kobe and Vanessa driving together in and out of our neighborhood. We saw them together at the grocery store. We saw them laughing and smiling at the nail salon. Yes, Kobe would go with his wife and girls to get mani/pedis. He would sit in a chair at the back of the salon with his back to the wall so that he could see everyone and know who was approaching him. And oh how they would approach him.
You might think that someone like Kobe Bryant would try to avoid encounters with fans, but the opposite was true. Although he didn't seek out his adoring fans, we never saw him dismiss a single one of them. Especially when it came to the kids who were face-to-face with someone they idolized. He seemed to be keenly aware of the fact that although it was a daily occurrence for him, meeting him in person was a big moment in their lives. He was always gracious and extremely generous with his time.
Kobe would be going through the self-check at the grocery store, trying to scan his many cases of bottled water, while every young boy in the vicinity would gather around him. Every time there was a “Kobe sighting” in the neighborhood kids would gather. It was like he was a magnet for every young boy within walking distance. No matter what he was doing, he would smile, stop, and talk to the kids. We watched as he signed t-shirts, hats, and arms and legs. I often thought that if I was in his position and couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without a barrage of fans, I would get irritated and it would show on my face. But if Kobe did get irritated, he never let it show.
He often wouldn’t be able to get out of his car in a parking lot before someone would approach him and start talking. He would stand and listen with a pleasant smile to the fans who recounted one of his famous buzzer-beater shots, as though he hadn’t been there and needed a total stranger to re-tell the story.
But when it came to his family, he was fiercely protective. A couple of times we would be driving home at the same time he was and we would see cars race up alongside of his car with windows open, shouting and trying to get him to roll his windows down. Instead of turning onto the street that goes into our community, he would keep going. We wondered how many times he had to drive around around Newport Coast trying to lose an adoring fan before finally being able to go home.
About Vanessa Bryant... she is shy and reserved. She has never sought the spotlight or public attention. She’s not a diva. She is a young mother who has worked hard to protect her marriage and her children.
So there it is. I’m not writing as a close friend, but as a neighbor in a community where there are many very accomplished people, including celebrities. We don’t fawn all over each other. We don’t ask for autographs. We respect one another’s privacy. And when it’s necessary, we comfort one another and come to each other’s defense.