Brianna, Jenay and I grew up in this neighborhood that adored basketball and Kobe Bryant too. At our Castaic home, we would hold a big basketball tournament every summer, filled with inflatables, BBQ's, family and friends, and of course, basketball. It's one of the fondest memories I have as a child. In front of our house also stood the basketball hoop my Dad, Joe, and all our neighbors would play on.
If there's one thing you should know about my Dad, it's that he was, and still is, a very hard worker. When my Dad wasn't working at the Los Angeles Times, he'd be outside shooting and shooting; dribbling and dribbling; playing and playing the sport he grew up loving most. He'd play for hours at a time and did so until a hip and knee replacement forced him out of the sport.
I'll never tell my Dad this to his face, but it hurt, and still hurts, to see my Dad not be able to play basketball anymore. Take the thing you love to do most and imagine not being able to do it ever again. Basketball was that thing for my Dad. I got a taste of what he goes through every day, when I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and nearly ended my career. I keep running because I could never imagine life without it, and I feel guilty because my Dad doesn't get to do what he loves to do anymore. My Dad's career-ending injuries is when he put his efforts into trying to make his kids love and play basketball, but it backfired, and we all eventually became distance runners, and were pretty good at it too.
But that doesn't mean we hated basketball. Kobe Bryant is an easy character to hate, but he still taught me a lot about life. He taught me how far a strong work ethic can go; he showed me that hard work was far more important than talent alone; and he forced me to love him when he made those two free throws on a torn Achilles tendon three years ago. Those same attributes can be said about my Dad, whose love for basketball paved my road to a successful, and unexpected, running career since 2002. If Kobe Bryant was my Dad's hero in sports growing up, then, my Dad is without a doubt my hero, whose actions throughout my life are much appreciated.
I don't know Kobe Bryant personally, but I owe him a huge thank you: Thank you for showing me what hard work, determination and heart is; thank you for making up a large chunk of my childhood; and thank you for being my Dad's hero. It's because of you I'll always keep running until I'm ready to leave the sport on my own terms. There's not one professional athlete that sticks out of the crowd like you do when it comes to my childhood. I owe you and my Dad big time for making me the athlete I am today. I may not have enjoyed the sport like my Dad and neighbors did when I was a kid, but I was still hiding behind the couch, watching you make history.