Column: Hall of Fame induction painful reminder of Kobe Bryant’s loss

Column Hall of Fame induction painful reminder of Kobe Bryants
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Kobe Bryant should have been there.

He should have been sitting in the front row with wife Vanessa.

He should have been standing on the dais next to Michael Jordan.

He should have spoken at the lectern, joking about being a ball hog, ribbing Shaquille O’Neal, thanking Jerry West, preaching the “Mamba mentality.”

Lord, it would have been some speech.

It should have been wonderful watching Kobe Bryant inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday.

Instead, his absence was agonizing.

What was supposed to be a reminder of his greatness was, instead, a reminder of the greatness of his loss.

In ceremonies at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Kobe’s presence should have joyfully dominated a class that included greats Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Instead, his absence was sadly noted in various speeches by folks who clearly just didn’t know what to say.

At one point, Garnett referred to him as “Kob” as if he was sitting right there. The camera stayed on Garnett, because there was nowhere to pan.

Tamika Catchings paid homage to all of her fellow inductees except for Bryant, at which point she recognized Vanessa, who looked like she was going to cry.

Tim Duncan thanked, “the late, great Kobe Bryant” and it is still strange to hear those words in that sequence.

It was all so hard. What was trumpeted all week as a moment of glory instead became an exercise in pain.

It was compelling when Michael Jordan accompanied Vanessa to the stage for the ceremony’s final acceptance speech. But, unlike at Bryant’s memorial service, Jordan didn’t speak, he simply stood in the background, Jordan’s eyes filled with tears.

Vanessa fought back those tears as she delivered a heartfelt 10-minute speech highlighted by a twist that Kobe would have loved.

Instead of individually thanking everyone on Kobe’s behalf, an impossible exercise given the circumstances, she simply thanked Kobe.

“Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be,” she said. “Thank you for growing and learning from your own mistakes. Thank you for always trying to be better.”

She thanked him for being the great girl dad and family man.

“Thank you for waking up at 3 a.m. to train, for making it home to kiss me good morning, and for dropping our girls off at school, only to go to practice, come home and pick up the girls from school whenever you could,” she said. “Thank you for never missing a birthday, a dance recital, a school show-and-tell, or any games our daughters played.”

She concluded with the best embrace she could offer.

“Congratulations baby, all of your hard work and sacrifices paid off … you did it, you’re in the Hall of Fame now,” she said. “You’re a true champ. You’re not just an MVP, you’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.”

Her voice finally broke when reciting his name. As she stepped from the lectern, the crowd stood and cheered while chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be’’ could be heard from the rafters.

He should have been there to hear them. He should have been there to hug her. One of the most justified inductions into the Hall of Fame was muted by the unfairness of it all.

Earlier in the ceremony, Bryant was the last person honored during a memorial video remembering the lives of basketball figures who died in the last year.

As Ne-Yo sang “Incredible,” Bryant appeared on the screen with a message.

“I wanted to be remembered as a player that didn’t waste a moment, didn’t waste a day, lived every day as if he was the 12th guy on the bench,’ he said.

On a day that should have been the highlight of his career, if only he had been there to see his wish granted.

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