Photo Credit: Rae Allen via Flickr
There’s not much left to say about Kobe Bryant that hasn’t been said but we decided he was undeniably worth writing about, so I kind of decided to go rogue.
Overhead was a warm, dark hue of mustard and understated cayenne, a shade apocalyptic if not for its unfettered beauty. He locked the car door twice for luck and squeezed the keys into the worn down Levis front pocket. The left toe of his shoe scraped across the asphalt, unwilling to gain proper clearance and scuffing what could only be described as sensible footwear. Surveying the diner upon entry, the man settled on a sturdy but lopsided chair, removed his coat— the place was heated to its upper limits— and rested his elbows against the rusted, clawed up table.
“Evenin’. I’ll have a double-double coffee, please. 2% is fine. Sure, Splenda will be fine. It’s Raymond–Ray’s fine. Don’t worry, you don’t have to spell it.”
The waitress left. A deep, restless sigh escaped.
Slicked back yet ruffled hair, a more burnished yellow than gold watch flanked his wrist, an unforgivably thick scarf clung to his neck, Jake glided in by the power of his sockless loafers. He scanned the place and caught, in the corner of his eye, a thick mustard coat draped off the edge of a wooden chair.
“Hey, dad. Come on, let’s find a booth.”
“She’ll be back with—”
“Don’t worry, they’ll find us.”
Jake settled into a spacious enclave that offered a modicum of privacy but rigid, high backings, that stressed the small of Ray’s spine. “Are you going to take your scarf off?” —these are the seeds of all conflict.
Jake looked down. He replied, “Oh…err, no. So, what’s new?”
Ray smiled his creased, half-formed, half-concerned smile, “Your mother wanted to come but she had to stay late tonight.”
“No worries,” the son said absently as he furrowed intently at the scrolling light emanating from his cellular display.
“So how’s work going? Jake?”
He looked up from his phone and responded, “Sorry. Yeah, it’s not bad. I mean, they’ve got me doing a bunch of stuff I don’t want to be doing anymore but I’m talking to some other companies, so I guess we’ll see.”
The flickering conversation sputtered and both men felt an awkward fatigue to the excruciating silence. A mangled Kobe Bryant popped up on the television, as though to cut through the chasm between the aged and seemingly ageless, his latest setback in garbled lo-fi. “That guy is done-zo,” remarked Jake.
For a split moment that, if anyone had caught him, could have spanned all eternity, Ray furrowed his brow. The waitress returned, a coffee cup in hand with three distinct markings: R-O-Y. Jake gave a wry grin, “I’ll get a medium, iced, sugar-free java chai latte with soy. Thanks.”
“You know, I still remember his first championship.,” Ray remarked as he clasped the cup of joe with cracked and calloused hands. “We couldn’t get you to relax when Shaq dunked that alley oop against Portland. It was probably one of the first times you cared about what was happening.”
Jake cocked his head to the side, peering to see if the interview was revelatory. “Yeah, because he never could have done it without Shaq.”
Ray blinked slowly, “I don’t understand where it turned for you. You used to love him.”
“It’s not that. It’s just there’s better guys out there. Kobe’s been lucky to have such good teammates.”
“All champions have good teammates.”
“Which is why you don’t like LeBron… for going and finding good teammates?” Jake coolly remarked.
Ray focused at the brim of his cup, organizing his thoughts as he took another caffeinated sip. “You know, that’s precisely the problem. No patience, no loyalty. It takes one obstacle, they just up and leave,” Ray paused. “It used to be better. These new guys just want everything handed to them. They prance around with their dances and joke over Twitters and then complain that they aren’t winning. Kobe’s a hard worker, he steps up when his team needs him. He’s not distracted by the outside stuff. That’s why he has five rings.”
Jake’s face betrayed just a hint of animation. “I’m not sure why you’d say that,” he responded. “That things were so much better. Look, I like Kobe, he’s fine, great even. But he’s selfish. He shot his team out of games. No one else could get away with that. The LeBron’s, Chris Paul’s, they win in different ways. Doesn’t make them worse. I’d actually say it’s better now.”
“Ya know, I’m not in the minority here. The fans voted him in, even when he didn’t want them to. We’re all gonna miss Kobe when he’s gone. He’s the only reason left to watch. Nobody wants to cheer for the new generation.”
Jake rolled his eyes, “Yeah, ‘cause everyone just hates unselfish basketball.” The waitress returned with the iced coffee, as if to punctuate the casual dismissal of his father’s opinion.
The sky morphed into navy blue, their eyes featured reddish, pink cracks— a blithe reminder that their time was almost over. They relented, retread the same arguments. They sat in opposition to each other and yet, for reasons only known to fathers and sons, longed to retain the brief, nostalgia that, just a few moments earlier, felt endless and forgettable.
Ray lingered afterwards, soaking in the evening. He slid out of the booth, and as though the earth crumbled beneath his step, he slipped. Painfully aware of his own cracks and hinges, inflammation in those old sore places, he steadied himself. He drove home. He went to his job. There was work yet to be done.