Rovell: Kobe Bryant Was Just Getting Started
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images. Pictured: Kobe Bryant.
Sept. 29, 2009.
I had just finished interviewing Kobe at Lakers media day and we were wrapping up.
“Hey man, can I have your phone number?” Kobe said.
“Yeah sure,” I said, laughing inside. I’d been in the business nine years but nothing prepared me for how surreal that moment was.
“I’m getting into business and love it,” he continued, “and want to meet as many people as possible. I think you can help me.”
That was the start of my relationship with Kobe Bryant, a relationship that ended in tragedy on Sunday, as Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
I’m devastated, as many of you are, that we lost Kobe, and I feel obligated to tell you who he became after he left the court because that part never got to be celebrated.
Kobe did use my phone number. To text me. To call me. To ask if I had any case studies for him to read as he flew to China. We got on phone calls with Michael Rubin, the billionaire who owns Fanatics, and Mike Repole, who sold VitaminWater to Coke. The latter led to Kobe’s investment in Repole’s current company Bodyarmor. After tasting the first iteration of the drink — it wasn’t as good as it is today — Kobe bought 10% of the company. His investment is already worth 50 times what it was when he invested more than five years ago.
His predecessor Magic Johnson was known to open doors. To shake hands in the business world to close deals that ultimately had his name on it.
Kobe, off the court, was Magic Johnson 2.0. He was the highest profile modern athlete to take the business world by storm.
He became a voracious reader. He knew all the business terms and acronyms. He sought to impress people who had spent their entire lives in boardrooms. And the biggest people in business, some of the world’s richest people, couldn’t help but be impressed.
Kobe wanted to be known as a better businessman than a basketball player. The scary thing is, in the last five years of his life, he earned more off the court than his entire career on it.
And he was just as much a competitor in a suit as he was in uniform. As an investor in Bodyarmor, which was taking market share from Gatorade, he wanted to crush the lightning bolt and helped develop commercials that were as in your face as his steely on-court demeanor.
He died at the age of 41. But his accomplishments mirror someone who had been around for 85 years. The man played 20 seasons in the NBA and didn’t hardly take a day off after retiring, seamlessly pivoting to business and the arts. In 2018, he won an Oscar.
He did this by living life as if he didn’t have enough time. His insane schedule. His frequent emails that had a time stamp on it when most people were sleeping.
Kobe told me one time that he defined obsession as “when you care about something 24 hours a day.” He was perpetually obsessed with whatever he was working on at the moment.
On Sunday, Kobe’s death gripped us all. Much of that is because he created so much after his final shot, and he had so much more to give us.