February 2, 2020
By Kelsey Kohlman
Kelsey Kohlman graduated from BGSU’s Sport Management program in December 2013 and has been working at ESPN in the Stats and Information Group (SIG).
It was December of 2013 in my final week of being an intern for the Charlotte Bobcats (Hornets). The Lakers had just beaten Charlotte in a close game, and I was doing my normal postgame intern duties of going back and forth from the court, to the locker room tunnels, to the printer, to the media room, etc. However, soon that night was going to be unforgettable.
There was a young boy decked out in Kobe gear from head to toe in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms. Literally, I didn’t know that many Laker accessories existed lol. He was a quadriplegic in a motorized wheelchair with a trachea coming out of his throat. I couldn’t help but notice he was beaming with excitement everytime I walked past him.
A few minutes later, I just so happened to walk by the boy again (with a cart full of monitors) just as Kobe was coming out of the locker room. This was the boy’s “Make a Wish.” Since the hallway was too narrow to squeeze past, I got the pleasure of witnessing such a heart-warming interaction that I will never forget.
This wasn’t a 1 minute hello and good bye. Kobe squatted and put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and they started talking like they had known each other for ages. No awkward silence, no forced interaction, no sad puppy eyes, and no negative annoyance body language that some celebs may show when doing a “checkbox” quota meet and greet. It felt more genuine than I would have ever imagined.
The parents were standing near me, behind their son, probably because they didn’t want their son to see them bawling uncontrollably. Their happiness and being overcome by emotion was so evident, it made me tear up.
Kobe, the boy, and both parents then began walking toward my office, to an empty room where they could all chat in a more private setting. As I followed not far behind to continue on with my work, I just couldn’t get over how genuine Kobe looked/felt/sounded, how overly-happy this child was, and how something so simple can mean so much to a struggling situation..if done right. And Kobe did it all right that night.
Kobe was never a favorite for me, but seeing that interaction has always “hit” and stuck with me. I’ve told this story many times before because those few minutes were so shockingly heartfelt.
Millions of these “moments” happen each year. Am I saying Kobe was the best person to walk the planet? No. But I am saying people have so many sides to them. A superstar athlete can have a tender touch and a warm heart. A person that has had rough acts in the past can rebound and evolve into something greater.
Thank you Kobe for that memory. It will never fade, and in my eyes, it was better than anything you had ever done with a basketball.