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Podcasts California Love
California Love
Episode 4
Walter dives deep on what Kobe meant to him in his life and how the icon’s death spurred a collective mourning throughout the city.

Episode 4 Transcript: Kobe

Jack Thomas: There's 40 million people in Southern California that remember how Kobe made them feel. Kobe made people feel as confident as he was he made people feel like, “Don't worry, I got this. We're going to be okay.”

Zach Woolridge: Because remember it was a Sunday morning, looking into the sky and going like, this is very unusual fog.

Zuhair Al-Shawaa: It was devastating and I felt the vibe even when I came back how the whole city got really — like they missed a member of a family.

Ileana Tejada: I don’t know, I was just… I was paralyzed like I couldn’t move, I couldn’t respond to anything.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: It’s late at night, and there’s a cop standing in my room. He looks nervous and uneasy about the whole situation. He’s a young guy, maybe in his early twenties, and to me, looks like someone who never planned on being a cop. Like a high school athlete who figured joining the force would give him the same rush that football once did. I doubt he pictured getting called to settle domestic violences cases. Maybe he imagined getting called to like, bank shootouts and high speed chases on the 10 Freeway. Instead, he’s right here, in my bedroom making small talk with an eleven year old kid who just got into a fight with his mom’s boyfriend.

Voice (Zack Furniss): “What do you think of Kobe?”

Walter Thompson-Hernández: The cop said while grabbing the sports section of the paper on my desk. Kobe’s face was on it.

Voice (Zack Furniss): “He’s too young to be in the NBA, right?”

Walter Thompson-Hernández: “I don’t know. I think he’s gonna be, OK.” This is California Love. And I’m Walter. KOBEEEEEEE!

“Channel 9’s regularly scheduled programming will not be seen in order to present the following sports special..”

“ABC’s sports, brings you game number five of the NBA, championship playoffs with the Los Angeles Lakers, leading in the series.”

From Inglewood, California another capacity crowd 17,5 - 0 - 5 to see the fourth game....

Walter Thompson-Hernández: It always seemed like the Lakers were the NBA’s best team and always had the league’s best players.

The Lakers come away. It’s Magic in the middle. Quick hit to Nixon.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: I mean, shit we had Magic.

Tapped in finally by Magic Johnson

Kareem, 6 for 6 from the field.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: We had Kareem.

THe Lakers get it. They go to Wilt with it.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Wilt. Jerry West.

Van Exel for three.. TIE!

Walter Thompson-Hernández: And we had Nick Van Exel too. It felt like having a winning team was a big part of our city’s magic.

Buzzer … banks it in! OHHHHHH he banks in the three!

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Almost like each player and each era gave us something different to be proud about — something to look forward to every night.

David Tripler: Everyone wanted the game on. My grandmother would always turn into the specialist, the expert on why the Lakers weren't playing, right. And it would always be a running joke that, you know, if she was coaching instead of Phil Jackson that she would figure it out… and it’s like… [chuckle]

Walter Thompson-Hernández: It could have been a break from a busy work week, or something to talk about with co-workers. We all had the Lakers. And it felt like we were a part of them.

The ball comes in Kobe’s got it, above the three point line and a little bit of time, one dibble pull up — FOR THE WIN HE GOT ITTTTTT! THE LAKERS WINNNNNN!

… and Kobe Byrant, making his first appearance in Madison Square Garden. 18 years of age and he’ll go to the free throw line.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: The week the cops showed up at our home, is the same week I first heard about Kobe. The same summer I used to record California Love when it came on the radio. Most people in L.A. were saying the same thing the cop said that night...

Police: He’s too young to be in the NBA (reverb)

Chuck Hearn: Kobe Bryant. Last night you get your first start as a pro, how’d it feel?

Kobe: It felt good, it felt good. Going out. With the starting line up, I tried to keep a straight face and keep a serious look but you know I can’t help but crack a little smile.

Loureen Ayyoub: I remember a lot of discussion with relatives of like, “Was it the right move? He should have went to college...should he have not went to college?”

Walter Thompson-Hernández: They said Kobe is too young, too inexperienced, too cocky.

Chuck Hearn: Speaking of high school, how big was the gym that you played in Marion? How many people?

Kobe: About 500 people.

Chuck Hear: 500?

Kobe: About 500 people.

Chuck: This seats 26,000.

Kobe: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

Chuck: [Laughing]

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Kobe is this, Kobe is that. Maybe, he was all those things. Maybe, that’s why I liked him so much.

Chuck: What’s the difference?

Kobe: The difference is you have to make a contribution early on. You gotta go in there and produce right away and get the ball to the big fella … [fade]

Walter Thompson-Hernández: I didn’t know what it meant yet. That he would actually be a part of our lives for the next twenty years. And, he would change us — forever.

Stolen by Parker, here comes George to Kobe Bryant. Bryant inside! It’s GOOD!

Walter Thompson-Hernández: The same summer Kobe was drafted was the same summer that the Lakers traded for Shaq.

SHAQ: In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Chuck: What about Shaq?

Kobe: Me and Shaq talk everyday. Everyday. Whether it’s in practice and he’s blocking one of my shots or I’m getting a lay up on him or something like that, you know, we’ll talk and we’ll give advice to one another or pumping each other up at the same time. He’s like my older brother.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: As an eleven year old, it was all music to my ears. Basketball was everything and my entire room was filled with posters. I had Michael Jordan, Eddie Jones, and a UCLA basketball National Championship poster. I played in the park everyday, all day. Sun up to sun down. And would take some money with me that I would hide in my socks to buy a hot dog and soda for lunch. And if you were a real one like I was, when your t-shirt got dirty, you flipped it around and you kept on playing but in hindsight, that was kinda nasty. But, anyways….

Ellie Hernández: For me, it was like, a golden door, because I knew you had the ability to play and you were very athletic since you were little. So to me, that was the golden key to make it in life.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: You remember the first time, you saw me play basketball, in High School?

Ellie Hernández: Ay Mijo — I remember that so clearly.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: What happened?

Ellie Hernández: so that every time I go by that high school. Ay — Yo lloró. Por que, It was very emotional. It was your first JV game and you were playing your first half. And you were playing AMAZING — oh my god! You were doing the Kobe style, I don’t remember what it’s called Mijo…? Como se llama?

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Finger roll.

Ellie Hernández: Finger rolls yes! Ohhhhh and everybody was clapping, I was so happy! And then after the half, you sat down on the floor. All I knew was you were sitting down and to me it was a very sad moment because that was my opportunity to see you become a good student and a basketball player. And after the game, I went up to you and said, “Mijo what did you do? Why didn’t you play?” And then you gave me a big hug. And I say, well, what's going on? And you said, “Mom, I made Varsity! So coach took me out of the game because I made Varsity! I'm in the Varsity team now!” Oh my God. First I was crying because I was sad. Now I'm crying because I was happy.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: My mom was able to send me to UCLA basketball camps. It’s where I met college stars, and people who I looked up to UCLA players who had just won a National Championship that year. I learned how to become a better basketball player. We played in games and did drills all day long.

I was in the dorms, I had my own room. And it felt like a resort. It was like, almost like a teenage Sandals, you know it was so much fun, we had pizza for every meal.

No — I’m not joking though that’s literally what it was.

Let’s see what happens this time, jumping from the corner. It’s good by Thompson. Thompson is a very good three-point shooter off the bench.

On the wing — Thompson!!!

Walter Thompson-Hernández: All that training came in handy years later when I played division one basketball, and then professionally. Kobe was only six years older than me. Close enough to feel similar but old enough to look up to.

Defense! Defense! Oh up shot by Kobe right over Yao! OH MY GOODNESS!

Walter Thompson-Hernández: He was smooth, handsome, and had confidence unlike any other seventeen year old I knew. And, he had just taken Brandy to prom that year.

  1. Martinez: …Which was the most baller thing you could do, especially when you're a high school kid, so you knew right off the bat that he had a ton of confidence, a ton of flair.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Mo-to-the-e-to-the….. Moesha. Yep, Brandy. He was a star in my eyes from the first moment that he arrived in L.A. and he felt like an older brother. He was fearless and that’s something that all of L.A. could relate to. It didn’t matter where you lived: The Westside, Downtown, South Central, or the Eastside. It was all the same. Even though Kobe had his doubters, after only a few years, he proved them wrong. But I mean, I’m not saying he was a perfect player.

5 seconds left — 4 Bryant drives pull up — Kobe on the intersection, no one else in sight. OHHHHHH! He blew up.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: He did airball a few times during the Lakers-Jazz playoff series.

Zach Woolridge: I was kind of like, “Yo, like, really? You're just going to keep air balling?” like, crazy, but I don't know if Kobe becomes Kobe who Kobe is...

  1. Martinez: And it still didn't faze him, and it didn't wreck his confidence, at least not outwardly. Not one bit.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Oh and that one time… when he got a coooold two piece from New York Knicks guard, Chris Childs. Pow pow

And now a fight breaks out between Kobe Byrant and Chris Childs. Chris Childs punched him twice.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: That was crazy. But it also didn’t stop him.

Jack Thomas: When they played the Sacramento Kings that was hate! And the way he used to fight with Doug Christie. And Kobe's sitting there. Just bobbing and staring at Doug Christie face to face. He goes to make Kobe flinch and Kobe does not flinch. He does not bat an eye. It's the most singular moment that tells you everything you need to know about Kobe Bryant. In the face of somebody gonna pop them in the face, he’s not even moved.

Chanting LETS GO LAKERS... A let’s go Lakers chant

------------------------------------------------ MID-ROLL 13:11 --------------------------------------------

Walter Thompson-Hernández: During my sophomore year in high school, racial tension between students really exploded. They were all over LA county. The root of the violence was unclear, but one thing was: black and brown students were getting swept up in them. People were fighting on the way to school, at school, and after school. Me and my friends wanted to stay clear of it all, so we stayed in the gym and played basketball. I carried my basketball wherever I went as a form of communication. I carried it on the bus, dribbled it down the street, and had it by my side all day long. It felt like it became a part of my body. Because I knew if people saw me with it they would be like, “Oh — he just plays basketball. He’s cool.” And it worked. People were fighting outside the gym. But inside, black and brown teenagers were trying to be just like Kobe.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: We all wore his jersey. Kobe was easy to love. He took us to the finals. And we won again.


Walter Thompson-Hernández: And again.


Walter Thompson-Hernández: And again.


Loureen Ayyoub: I think the Lakers were so important because they gave us just an opportunity to celebrate victory that everyone could be a part of. You know, when it comes to sports, yeah, there's no divide there. Coming from, you know, an immigrant Arab American family, my uncles and my dad like that's how they learned English watching the NBA.

Ileana Tejada: By the time I was in seventh and eighth grade. It was just like everyday Kobe Bryant Laker T-shirt. He was plastered all over my walls. I would save every single newspaper clipping that came out and people didn't know me by my real name. My friends called me Kobe or Mrs. Bryant.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: We yelled: KOBEEEEEEE. Whenever we shot paper into trash cans during class. Man — I got in trouble for that so many times in class. We yelled it on the courts in Venice and out in East L.A. You didn’t need to love basketball to love Kobe.

Kobe and Vanessa met in 1999 when he was twenty and she was seventeen. He was trying to be a rapper and met her on the set of his music video. You do remember he recorded a song right? For some reason, I was really involved in their relationship gossip.

Kobe: It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes a person the one for you but you just know. Love is a funny thing. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it. But all I know is… she caught my heart and I just knew that she was the one.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: I wanted their relationship to work. Maybe it was because it was something I had wished my parents had. Vanessa also felt really relatable to me. She reminded me of one of my cousins and was only a couple years older than me. But when they married, and the city’s biggest hero had these Black-Mexican daughters — I felt an immediate emotional attachment to them.


Walter Thompson-Hernández: I saw parts of myself in their daughters, in Gianna, in Natalia. In the identity questions I knew they had because I had them too. Those girls and I probably had different lives but seeing children like them was really beautiful to me. Kobe and Vanessa’s family didn’t solve our city’s racial problems but it sure did something to our spirits.

At times, Kobe flew higher than any human I thought could, and then there were also moments, like at a resort hotel in Eagle, Colorado, that he felt human, flawed, and to some, even a villain.

Kobe: I sit here in front of you guys, furious at myself for making a mistake of adultery…

David Tripler: Like No. Not, not the not the person that I've felt so passionately defends my values.

Lisa Kwon: I've learned that the people that I look up to so many of them have found ways or have done things that disappoint me in the end. So here I am tempering the way that I look up to somebody.

Loureen Ayyoub: I want to say back then I had this generalization that the culture of the NBA was a womanizing culture, and so I almost wasn't surprised. Later, when you start to understand the details, and you're like, you understand how heavy this is, of course, it's disappointing.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: As a high school senior, it was hard to reconcile the image of Kobe and the reality that he had been charged with sexual assault. Part of me really wanted to ignore the allegations, while a different part of me wanted to understand what would lead Kobe to commit adultery and force himself on a nineteen year old woman. He even admitted to understanding that for her, it was not consensual. It was in stark contrast to the wholesome image that so many of us believed in. That I believed in.

Zach Woolridge: When he lived, and people don't want to talk about this, he was very polarizing. Right? So as a ballplayer, he could be marked as selfish. As a companion in marriage, he could be marked as a cheater. In the court of law, if you know, some people don't forgive people and he could be looked at as a rapist.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Sports heroes are a form of escape and can allow us to enter a world removed from our day-to-day. It’s like they’re a vessel to help us travel back to a time when all the dreams we had as children still seemed viable and like they had a chance of becoming true. Kobe was that for a lot of people. The news that he had been charged with sexual assault forced people to really question their beliefs and even question their own dreams. He had a long way to fall and when he fell, and it felt like we all fell too.

Kobe: I’m so sorry, for having to put you through this, for having to put our family through this.

[Announcer: Walter Thompson Senior from Venice, California…]

Walter Thompson-Hernández: When I was a student athlete at the University of Portland, I would come back to LA every summer. I came back home to be with friends and family and to train for the upcoming season. I played in summer pick-up at UCLA. And It felt special to be there. With people like Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, and other well-known NBA players. The gym was filled with agents and fans and students who watched as we played inside of the three-court hardwood gym. I’d sometimes play in a few games a day with all these people I admired, but who didn’t know who I was and would mostly refer to me not by my name, but by the color of my shirt. They used to be like: “Hey Blue, Hey Red, or Hey Grey.” It took months, but the first time one of those NBA players called me by my name — man, it felt great.

But something even more unbelievable happened next.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Oh shit that’s Kobe.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Kobe walked in one day. Sneakers stopped their squeaks. Basketballs were caught and held. The echo of laughter, stopped dead in the air. The silence made you more aware of the smell of the place: sports creme, old spice deodorant, sweat. And we were all looking at Kobe. He was wearing black sunglasses, a track suit, Jordan 3’s. Literally in my mind, I watched him walk and I’m like — ohhhhhh ---- with the golden ora.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Oh shit that’s Kobe.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: What the fuck that’s Kobe — shit was crazyyyyy. Shit was wild. He might have been floating. I don’t know. He probably was. The guy was definitely floating. He walked up to our group and greeted the people he knew, like Coach Hazzard, my high school basketball coach, who at that point in his life was the Lakers scout. I hoped he would shake my hand, too. But instead, he just gave me a quick head nod.

A half hour later, first game was under way. I was playing against Kobe. I wasn’t even mad that I wasn’t on Kobe’s team. I was just happy to be there.

So I’m on the court and I’m trying to do my job. I’m trying to guard my guy and I’m failing cuz I’m just watching Kobe the whole time. And he is so in control of his body, it’s Crazy. It felt like watching the most highly trained Broadway dancer. It felt poetic. About 10 minutes later, Kobe accidentally starts to guard me. Next thing I know, I’m under the basket. It’s just me and Kobe and he’s grabbing on my t-shirt. So I fake going left, I spin away, releasing his grip, and use a screen set by one of my teammates to get open. I sprint to get the ball. He’s right behind me. He’s on my tail. The ball lands in my hands. I square my feet and I set my eyes on the rim and release the ball high into the air as Kobe struggles to get over the screen.

Swish. Bucketsssss. So we actually ended up losing the game but scoring on Kobe was a big win for me. An hour after that game we had all called it quits and began cooling down. Hundreds of UCLA students had heard that Kobe was on campus. In a matter of minutes, the entire gym was swarming with students. A group of campus police approached Kobe and formed a human barricade around him while he put his tracksuit back on.

So Kobe looks at Coach Hazzard and he goes, “Ey Shead… Can you walk me to my car?” And Coach Hazzard goes, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Seconds later, I join them.

I found myself on Kobe’s left side, as we made our way through campus on a bright summer’s day. And I’m looking at Kobe the whole time. Earlier, on the basketball court I was trying to play it cool but walking next to him, I lost my shit. I was that 10 year-old kid again. Bright eyed, excited, hyped to be walking next to Kobe Bryant. And in what universe do I get to score a basket on Kobe and walk next to him on the same day? This was the craziest moment of my life.

And I’m looking at Kobe walking and his eyes are staring at the whole campus. And he’s like so observant of everything going on around him. But he doesn’t see me or maybe he does but he plays it cool and doesn’t show it. But then he looks at me and like my whole like just stopped. And he opens his mouth and he says, “Man — college would have been fun and all, but I don’t know about all that fucking school work.”

And then like a minute later, Kobe gets in his car and drives off.

But I’m still shook that Kobe looked at me and spoke to me, and it’s a moment that I’ll never forget ever.

  1. Martinez: I got dozens of texts with the same three words. Is it true? Is it true, those three words with no other other context at all? Nothing else and it was almost as if the texts were coming from the same person. Everyone in Los Angeles became the same person for a second and they were hoping that they would get a “No” back but unfortunately every answer to that question, “Is a true?” turned out to be a “Yes.”

Good afternoon from New York, we’re coming on the air with breaking news, very sad news to tell the sports world the LA Times has reporting that retired Los Angeles Lakers Basketball star Kobe Bryant has been killed in a helicopter crash. It happened this morning

Walter Thompson-Hernández: On January 26th and Kobe and his daughter and seven other people were in a helicopter. They were flying above Calabasas and on their way to host his basketball camp. The helicopter crashed around 10 am.

Ileana Tejada: Cuz at that point I kind of knew that it was true. I got a message from one of my classmates in seventh grade. I have no idea how this dude got my number, but he was like, You were the first person I thought of…I don't know, like I was just, I was paralyzed. For a good six hours after, I couldn't move, I couldn't respond to anything.

Nicholas Rose: … My body like it just like not went numb. Like last feeling like I started shaking like there's just like, no way. Like, never thought like, I couldn't believe that I my heart was like shattered. I was like, there's no way.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: What's crazy is that, you know, that text tread that. It's me, you Jordan and mint. Like, that's how I found out like...

Zach Woolridge: Oh, wow, yeah…

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Like men texted that thread. Like some like TMZ you know, story and like, that's how I found out and man, I could not believe it.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: I cried for almost three hours in my room — alone and thought about Kobe. Then I went outside. Within hours of the news breaking, I saw so many people wearing Kobe jerseys. Number 8. Number 24. It felt like the whole city had one on. People who looked like they had never played a day of basketball in their lives but they all had on his jersey. And drove by a woman who cried as she bought roses from a man on Slauson. I think she was crying for kobe. On a different street corner, I saw the same guy who sold RIP NIPSEY HUSSLE shirts, now selling RIP KOBE ones. When Nipsey was killed, I felt like South Central mourned. But when Kobe died, it felt larger, it felt like the whole city felt it. And the world.

Ellie Hernández: I lost it. I was crying. Couldn't believe it. You were the one who gave me the news, I knew you were sad. And I knew inside of me that I lost like, like a family member. it's just like you've lost your role model. Somebody important in my son's life. Someone who helped me change my son.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: Honestly, sometimes it feels like the only time we come together in LA is in extremes. It’s like we’re great at celebrating. And we are great at grieving. But nothing in between. We come together in grief after disasters, fires, earthquakes, and pandemics. When we are shaken, we reach out to help each other. Kobe wasn’t a fire or an earthquake, but his death definitely changed us. Some rumors say that Kobe held on to Gigi as the helicopter crashed. And, maybe, there’s something beautiful to take from that. Maybe that’s one thing that we can do moving forward, is hold each other.

Loureen Ayyoub: You know, when I was at the memorial service, in particularly just the days after he died in the areas outside the Staples Center when they were putting flowers out for him. I mean you just saw a beautiful picture of L.A. You had the Latinos, you had the Armenians, you had the Russians, Middle Eastern, African American, Caucasian you saw every color, Asian Americans, and that just brought me so much joy because that was Kobe. Kobe's legacy is restoring the unity that L.A. was always intended to have.

Walter Thompson-Hernández: When Kobe was good he was great. When L.A. is good, it’s also great. Kobe — This is a thank you. A really big thank you. Thank you from that kid on his bed in his room talking to a cop, who didn’t know what you would mean to me. Thank you for giving me something to root for. Thank you for playing and making me want to play. For keeping me on the court and out of trouble. You really saved my life, man. And, my mom, wants to thank you too.

Ellie Hernández: Thank you, Kobe.


Walter Thompson-Hernández: Thank you.


And thanks to:

Ileana Tejada

Zach Woolridge

Loureen Ayyoub

Dr. Lareef Idroos

David Tripler

Eugene Oh

Nicolas Rose

Lisa Kwon

Jack Thomas

My mama

  1. Martinez

Zuhair Al-Shawaa

All these people helped us remember Kobe. And remind us of who we are. And who he was.

The lead producer for this episode is Tamika Adams

Supporting producer is Megan Tan.

Our editor is Arwen Nicks.

And our producer is Elizabeth Nakano.

Valentino Rivera is our engineer.

Original music by Andrew Eapen.

This episode was written by me, Walter Thompson-Hernandez with help from Tamika Adams and Arwen Nicks.

Angela Bromstad is the Executive Producer.

California Love is a production of LAist Studios.

Thank you for listening — I really appreciate you.

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.