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Hook, Line and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
As strange as it may seem to those who know what a complete sports and stats freak that I am, I’ve never been a huge NBA guy.   

It’s something I’ve never been able to fully explain.  The players in the league are too good for my liking.  It sounds kind of strange, but I much prefer high school and college basketball, where the players’ glorious imperfections are there for all to see and superhuman performances are the exception, rather than the rule.

On the other hand, Big Hook, my pops, was a diehard Lakers fan for the entire time I was blessed to share with him on this mortal coil, and I remember his glee when he heard that LA had traded starting center Vlade Divac for some seventeen year old, Italian speaking phenom from West Philly.  It was especially puzzling to me because Divac had been one of my dad’s favorite players since his rookie season.  My dad, however, truly believed that the Lakers, one of the NBA’s most storied franchises, had made a key move toward ending the longest title drought in their history.  Of course, the addition of Shaquille O’Neal a few months later was also a key piece, but Dad loved the Black Mamba’s game from the beginning, and he was right, though it would take a few years for the pieces to all come together. 

Together the combination of the veteran Shaq and the young Kobe Bryant would win three straight titles from 2000-2002, and Kobe would later pair with Pau Gasol to win two more in 2009 and 2010.

He soon became my dad’s third favorite Laker of all time, behind Kareem and Magic.  Pretty lofty company, to be sure.  

That’s why the news of his tragic passing has hit so many, so hard.  He was the face of the NBA for a good portion of his career, and was returning from Philadelphia, where he had been on hand when LeBron James surpassed him for third place on the all time NBA scoring list, when the tragic helicopter crash ended his life.  As my friend Bub, himself a Lakers fan said, he was Elvis for the people of Los Angeles, leading them back to winning championships, and staying his entire career in their city.  In a city full of stars, he shined the brightest. Tragically, news is coming out that his eldest daughter was also killed in the crash.  

Kobe, who’s skills were transcendent, even to a non-NBA guy like me, is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Closer to home, those of us who cheer for the Orange and Blue, were stunned and saddened to hear of the death of Robert Archibald, who was a key part of several Illini teams in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.   Archibald, who came to the St. Louis suburbs from Scotland before signing with Illinois, was part of some of the best teams to never make a final four at Illinois, with the loss to Arizona in a game where the Wildcats outscored Illinois 43-20 at the free throw line in an 87-81 Elite Eight victory serving as one of the bitterest of pills for Illini fans to swallow, with former NBA player and CBS announcer  Bill Walton constantly mewling about how the big, bad Illini were criminally mauling his son and his choir boy teammates on the Arizona side.  As always when these things happen, we are reminded that we don’t know how long we have on this earth, and that we need to value and cherish each day and each other.  Kobe Bryant was 41 and Robert Archibald was 39.   Thank you for your memories, and may you rest in peace.

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