My Feud with Kobe Bryant

A few months ago I referenced my ongoing feud with Kobe Bryant, of which I believe he is completely unaware. I eventually decided to wait until the end of the year to tell the story. The whole affair is related to 9/11, but happened days before the new year as 2001 became 2002. I know I probably could have skipped by the occasion without revealing the story and no one would have noticed.

Nonetheless, I gave my word.

For a couple of years I had a goal to get a “My Turn” column published in Newsweek. It’s the place where people talk about their increasingly demented parents, their lack of remorse over their spouse’s death, or the other things they (and the editors) believe are worth exposing in about 950 words.

The biggest motivation I had for wanting in was that I could put it on a resume. Surely the big metros would be impressed. The $1,000 the magazine pays didn’t hurt, either. So over a couple of years I submitted several columns and never heard a word.

Following 9/11 the columns were related to the attacks for weeks afterward. If you recall, that’s all any of us thought about. One night I watched Nightline, saw a story that gave me a reason to write, and off I went to my computer.

A few weeks later, which was a couple weeks before the new year, I got a call from a Newsweek editor. She said they had another piece picked, but wanted changes to it and weren’t sure the author would have time to make them. They wondered if I’d be ready to make some edits if mine was chosen instead. I wondered what writer in the world wouldn’t stop Heaven and Earth to make the edits necessary to get into Newsweek, but I didn’t ask who it was. Of course I would be willing, I said. I didn’t ask who it was and they didn’t appear to be all that willing to volunteer the info.

The next day the editor called back to say the writer came through. I found out by going to the Newsweek web site, finding Kobe Bryant’s piece in the place mine would have run.

As I have said for years, “Hey, I’m not the first guy to lose a one-on-one to Kobe.”

I tried to get my column published at my paper, but the editorial page editor said he didn’t want to spend the money it would take to pay me to reduce the piece to 600 words. I submitted it to some dailies and got a very nice response from an editor in Cleveland who wrote, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t use this well-written piece. It may be hard to believe, but I used two similar pieces on the oped page. I can’t use another at this time.”

Later I wrote to Kobe, congratulated him on beating me in my profession and challenging him to a contest in his. I asked for no handicap, just the chance to compete against him. I never got a response.

If he were to respond now, I would now demand a game to 20, and he would have to give me a 19-point lead. I figure that would make up for the fact that his “My Turn” column got published because he’s Kobe Bryant, an unfair advantage, especially since no one confuses him with the single former John Kerry swiftboatmate to say Kerry wasn’t all that.

C’mon, Kobe. Let’s go one on one. We can play for charity.

You can read my column below.

On Nov. 2 Aaron McGruder, author of the Universal Press Syndicate comic strip “Boondocks,” was on Nightline telling a classroom of students that the week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks America became a very stupid place. His opinion stemmed from the surge in flag waving and other forms of patriotism following what had been one of the most horrible days in our history.

It seemed hypocritical to him that suddenly Americans would en masse pronounce their allegiance to a nation refusing to ask why people hated us.

Maybe it’s a good question, but consider me stupid.

After the attack I didn’t rush out to buy a flag, but I wanted to. I felt enough patriotic fervor that I wanted to show my colors, but I didn’t want to participate in the initial hysteria. I boldly proclaimed that I would enter any shopping mall, drive my car across any bridge and even hop a flight if necessary to show my patriotism. I’m an American and that’s what we do. We shop, we drive and we travel freely throughout the country–on airplanes if we want.

At my workplace flags appeared on nearly every employee’s desk. About half the cars in the parking lot outside had either a flag or a proclamation backed by one. And in perhaps the greatest irony, our technically illegal office pool form based on that week’s NFL schedule featured a black and white copy of the American flag flanked by the statement, “Defend America’s Freedom.” Apparently the best way to show those terrorist bastards we wouldn’t let them change our way of life was by plunking down $2 for a chance at a C-note.

Still, McGruder was right. America was a very stupid place. But he was wrong about the timing. I think America was a stupid place before the attack. If anything, people like me, people who were either blind to the possible menace that terrorism could unleash or those who hoped it would go away, wised up.

Not necessarily so for the politicians. Congress was great singing on the Capitol steps and the president was absolutely inspiring before Congress. But they’ve gone back to normal since. On one measure that’s great, because they’re addressing problems that were with us before Sept. 11 and I’m really not all that excited about another performance by the U.S Congressional Tabernacle Choir.

I think a lot of us, however, learned something that I pray we won’t forget–that we’re awfully lucky to live here. For me, that’s what the flag waving is about this time. It’s a recognition that we’ve had it good for a long, long time and likely will continue to have it good. My sudden increase in patriotism was and is not based on adrenaline over entry into a war. Nor was it an “in your face Osama.” I don’t have a blood lust for a leveled Afghanistan. That drive may have been there for Americans as a whole when the country went into the Persian Gulf War. But this time, assuming people are feeling what I’m feeling, the flags we see are about gratitude.

When I bought my flag it was a recognition that no matter the struggles I’ve been through in starting a career and a family, I have been in the ideal place to undergo that struggle. I accepted as granted that it was my right to choose my work and where I live. I’ve never sensed otherwise. I’ve never felt that those privileges were not my birthright. I was wrong about all that, because it is a privilege. But I was right about the idea that choosing a job and place to live should be a birthright.

Where I was stupid was that it took Sept. 11 to stir me this way. Why did thousands of Americans have to die to wake me up to that gratitude? I said I was grateful before and I would have been fine with a flag in front of our house. But it wasn’t a priority like it is now. I went to 4th of July parades and fireworks shows. I voted. I debated issues on Internet bulletin boards and with friends. But Sept. 11 showed me the difference between casual gratitude and living gratitude with every breath.

The pain comes from knowing that I could have acknowledged this before the attacks. I know patriotism can be a destructive force if it influences someone to live without asking questions. That’s why McGruder’s suggestion that we ask why people hate us is important to discuss. There is a possibility, however remote, that if we had gone to those lengths before we were attacked we wouldn’t be standing at ground zero suddenly startled to our own patriotism.

But patriotism that’s based in gratitude not only makes life better at home, it makes it easier to share what we’ve got. Yes, America can be a very stupid place. It could be again if we let ourselves forget how good things are here.

Keep the flags waving. Don’t assume it solves everything, but keep them waving. Let’s ask why people hate us, but let’s also acknowledge that life in America is a pretty fine thing. May whatever we’ve learned from this tragedy be something we never have to learn again.

2 thoughts on “My Feud with Kobe Bryant

  1. Arrogance, Steven…the arrogant American traveler might be part of why Americans might be less than welcomed in some foreign countries – maybe hated in a few..

    How often have you listened to American tourists complain loud and clear the food was awful, the toilet paper similar to rubbing one’s fanny with sandpaper… on and on…loudly.

    One group in London turned out to be American school teachers…not caring who heard them complain about the country they were visiting – their rudeness to the hotel employees – their demands.
    They made me feel embarrassed and ashamed.

    You know the term ‘Ugly American’ – a requirement of getting a passport should be a series of culture classes on how to behave in the countries they plan to visit. Then a long test they must pass.

    I’ve never understood why Americans – anyone would travel if they’re not interested in learning the culture of the country, its people and tasting their food.
    Too many expected American niceties in foreign countries.

    Each and every American traveling is an Ambassador of this country. Our behavior can condemn or enhance foreigners impression of America and Americans.

    I don’t understand how you expected to understand something you had no experience with prior to 11 September.

    “…living gratitude with every breath…”

    YES, exactly right, Steven! You also deserved the thousand dollars…

    In my opinion. Sharon O’Hara

  2. Steven,

    Enjoyed your writing. Thanks.

    For what it’s worth, here are some resources, also known as books and songs, which contain some answers to your many questions: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner, Feeling Good by David D. Burns and Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.


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