Kobe Bryant was at the Amway Arena in Orlando ready to make his entrance.
Waiting patiently in the tunnel, he listened for his introduction. After hearing his name echo throughout the arena, he strutted onto the court and the place went crazy.
Nearly everyone got out of their seat and showed their support for the Los Angeles Lakers’ shooting guard, with one girl even shouting, “I love you, Kobe!
Why are these Magic fans giving an opponent such a warm reception?
Because the roaring fans are students from surrounding Orlando middle schools and many of them are meeting their idol for the very first time.
The superstar is not here today to play basketball. He’s not donning a No. 24 purple and gold jersey, and his right hand is wrapped up after dislocating his pinkie several nights earlier.
Kobe is in Orlando is to speak to the boys and girls who are a part of a program called After-School All-Stars, an organization that Bryant has paired up with to promote academic success and encourage children to set goals and achieve them.
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade, you know Kobe Bryant is a remarkable athlete. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and can do some ridiculous things when he laces up his signature Nikes and steps onto the court.
Kobe has embarrassed numerous players—Dwight Howard still has nightmares of Bryant’s brutal throw down—and he has made an entire country fear him after dropping 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and then delivering an insane facial to a certain Canuck in Phoenix two years ago in the playoffs.
While Bryant’s basketball accomplishments have been well documented, he doesn’t receive nearly enough attention for his work in the community and his passion for helping others. His Vivo Foundation—which he started in 2002—promotes education, reaches out to students who seek financial aid, and helps families of the men and women serving overseas.
Back at the Amway Arena, Kobe stepped up to the podium, facing his young audience.
“You’ve all been on buses for awhile now,” shouted Kobe, “so I want to hear everyone scream!”
The kids screamed and jumped up and down, but Kobe wasn’t impressed.
“Is that all you got? Let’s try that again and this time, act like you’re Laker fans!”
The children yelled at the top of their lungs and went wild as Kobe cracked up laughing.
Then he delivered his most important message of the day:
“Growing up, everybody told me I couldn’t be a basketball player. They’d spit stats at me about how hard it is to make it, but I didn’t let anyone stop me. You can accomplish anything but it starts with your education. When you have knowledge and an education, nobody can take anything from you.”
Bryant has been called selfish by both critics in the media and the fan’s of opposing teams. These people do the same thing that those doubters did to Kobe when he was younger—spit out stats. They talk about things like his assists numbers or his feud with Shaq, but they fail to mention how much time and money he gives to others.
Would a selfish person pay to send eight minority college students to Italy to help them learn about other nations and continue their education?
I don’t think so.
Would a selfish person spend their free time making appearances like the one he made in Orlando?
I doubt it.
Much of Kobe’s time is spent at these events and he’s even gotten his family involved. “My family and I put a lot of time into this. We feel like it’s a blessing to be in this type of position and if we can make a difference in a positive way, we’ll spend as much time as we possibly can.”
This is genuine Kobe. He’s not just saying all of the right things and he doesn’t just stick his picture all over these organization’s websites. He’s active and wants to make use of his resources to help these programs.
“I want to spread the message and have other people take notice, jump in and help out as much as they possibly can as well. In this position, I have a national platform and I intend to spread the message to a wide audience,” he says.
Whether you’re a Lakers’ fan or not, you have to respect what this man is doing off the court. He wants to spread positive messages to the next generation and “give these kids an opportunity to be creative while putting them in a safe environment.”
The next time he sinks a buzzer beater against your team or puts your favorite player on a poster, nobody is asking you to stand up and cheer like the star-struck students at the Amway Arena.
But you could just clench your teeth and tell yourself, “At least he’s a good guy.”
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