By Samuel Oshtry

Dear Kobe,

From the moment I started watching basketball as a young boy, it was you and your game that I fell in love with. I was a scrawny kid from Lower Merion who irrationally dreamed, like many kids, of playing in the NBA. But beyond your remarkable achievements on the court, it was your approach and insanely competitive nature that drew me in: a no-nonsense attitude that allowed you to achieve the unthinkable.

Despite my Philadelphia roots, I became a Lakers fan from the beginning and still remain one.

As a young fan, it never occurred to me that I might have the opportunity to wear the same school on my jersey as the GOAT. When I discovered that was a real possibility, I worked my tail off to have the opportunity to wear one of those prestigious Lower Merion jerseys. When I made the team, I took for granted how special it was to play basketball every day in the Bryant Gymnasium and look up to see your pictures across the wall.

In 2018, my senior year, when I heard that my teammates and I would be flying out to Los Angeles to sit down with you in your office, I could not believe it. I spent hours imagining how the interaction would go. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I remember the anticipation sitting in your office waiting for this larger-than-life figure to enter the room. Palms sweaty, heart beating as fast as light, butterflies in my stomach — I had never felt those kind of nerves in my life. The presence you held in a room was unlike any other. Finally, I was shaking the hand of an absolute icon. The raw, honest stories and advice from that day are nuggets of wisdom I will never forget. You used many animalistic analogies as you loved to do. The brilliant mind and creative thinker that you were cannot be understated.

During that meeting, I asked you what it really meant to have a “Mamba Mentality,” a phrase that was always linked to basketball but really was a way of life. You talked about learning to fall in love with the process instead of focusing on the results and you discussed the importance of having a never-give-up mindset.

After I asked a few questions, you told me you thought I would be a good journalist/broadcaster, without having any prior knowledge that that was the career I would be pursuing. That meant more to me than you could ever know and solidified the path I was on. This past March, I had the chance to see you again and you remembered exactly who I was. In a public news conference, you said I had “golden vocals.”

When I heard the news of your death, I was distraught. It was hard to fathom. I was trying to figure out why this was hitting me so damn hard, why I felt so connected to a man I had only met twice. I realized that it was something you said to me during that news conference. 

“Anything you need, let me know. Lower Merion is family.” 

The connection you created within the Lower Merion basketball community was remarkable. Your teammates and coaches from your high school days, going back 25 years, continued to benefit from your loyalty even as you moved across the country to start a journey only you knew would be as special as it was.

Now, every time I go on my phone I see your message to me, “Do Epic Sh*t,” on my screen saver. It’s a reminder from the greatest to make every day count and be — as you put it — EPIC.

There will never be another Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant.

To the baddest and realest dude who ever lived: Rest In Peace, Kobe. Your legacy will live on forever.