Kobe, Lakers make cameo at RIMAC

    No athlete has ever created a buzz on the UCSD campus like the one on Oct. 25. This man drew a crowd outside the RIMAC weight room trying to get a glimpse of him. There was finally a sports figure at the gym who people wanted to see — Kobe Bryant.

    The Los Angeles Lakers, who had set up their training camp down the road at University of San Diego at the beginning of October, returned to San Diego on Oct. 25 to take on the Seattle SuperSonics at the Sports Arena. Prior to the scheduled 7:30 p.m. tip-off time, the Lakers used the facilities at RIMAC to get in an afternoon workout.

    As Vlade Divac and Luke Walton spent time on the main basketball court running drills with an assistant coach, Kobe and some of the other players remaining on the depleted, 2004 NBA Championship runner-up Laker roster graced the pit of the RIMAC weight room.

    People stood in the doorway and peered through the windows of the gym to get a view of the NBA star with the recently tarnished image. Although his reputation has gone from priceless to nearly worthless in the same amount of time it takes him to send a crowd into a frenzy with a 360-degree dunk, everyone was still in awe at seeing Bryant.

    As the Laker guard left the gym, he was swarmed by fans and autograph-seekers on his way to the team bus. I followed him until he eventually noticed me on his heels.

    “What’s up man?” Bryant said to me.

    So I got a chance to utilize the wonderful privileges that being a writer for the Guardian gives me and was able to have a short conversation with the future hall-of-famer, trying hard to keep up with him (his strides were twice as long as mine).

    For eight years, I’ve noticed Kobe on the court, walking with a certain swagger that suggested a slight bit of arrogance and cockiness (although this sense of arrogance and cockiness screams from most of the overpaid NBA community). On this day outside of RIMAC, I noticed that Kobe had a different swagger — one that hinted at humility.

    We all know that 26-year-old Bryant has been presented with challenges in the past; this upcoming NBA season he is facing a new one. Kobe, who went whining to his boss and got his way, yet again is going to be playing one-on-five basketball (which one could argue he’s done before) as he is surrounded by teammates that belong on a JV team.

    “I’m excited,” Bryant said when I asked him about the long journey that starts at Los Angeles’ Staples Center against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 2. “We got a young team, and it’s gonna be fresh.”

    Everything that has been made public during the past year about Bryant raced through my mind as I stood next to him; I realized that I’m not talking to one of the brightest stars that the basketball world has seen, but I’m talking to a man who has cheated on his wife, backstabbed a teammate and been accused of rape.

    It used to be a privilege to watch Bryant blow by a defender on his way to the hoop from the nosebleed seats. Now, I’m still amazed to be standing next to him, but not because of his talent, but instead because of how he managed to lose his heroic image.

    When we reached his bus, we shook hands and I wished him good luck. Good luck on reaching the playoffs this season, and good luck on building a new reputation.

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