HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We spend an inordinate amount of time during this part of the offseason detailing things like what sort of workouts a player is going through and where they’re vacationing.
What doesn’t garner as many headlines is the work they do off the court: conducting free camps for kids, donating their time and money to charitable causes and getting outside of their comfort zone every now and then to use their stature as some of the world’s most recognizable face to a worthy cause.
And as Lakers star Kobe Bryant highlighted earlier this week while walking the downtown streets of Los Angeles with his wife, Vanessa, wading into the midst of that city’s homeless community. Sometimes, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi makes clear, it takes the bright light that only certain celebrities bring to draw attention to a particular cause:
While Bryant was there he met a 58-year-old man, who has been in and out of the mission for the past year.
“He was extremely articulate and he had a great life and he made a poor choice and ended up on the streets,” Bryant said. “He came to the L.A. Mission weighing 135 pounds and now he’s healthy and his weight is back up. He’s 58 but he’s in better shape than I am. … You get to hear their stories and you get to find out first-hand what’s going on.
“This issue gets pushed into the backburner because it’s easy to put the blame on those that are homeless and say you made that bad decision and that’s the reason why you are where you are and it’s your fault. We all make mistakes and to just sit back and watch this and to wash your hands of it by saying that’s your fault, that’s not right and it’s not fair.”
On Wednesday Kobe and Vanessa Bryant arrived at My Friend’s Place, a drop-in center for homeless youth in Hollywood, which annually serves about 1,700 individuals between the ages of 12 and 25. They were there to announce the completion of the center’s renovation, which was funded by the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.
“This isn’t a popular topic or a popular issue,” Bryant said. “It’s one where you have to get your hands dirty a little bit. It’s not something celebrities easily rally around but this is something that we wanted to change. This something we’re all going to have to fight, it’s going to be a long fight but I’m in it for the long haul.”
Bryant recalls seeing homeless people walking the streets outside the Forum at the beginning of his career and more recently at the Staples Center. He admits the epidemic became like white noise for him before he heard chilling statistics about homelessness in Los Angeles last year. According to a 2011 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are 51,340 homeless people in Los Angeles County on a given day.
“It puts things into perspective,” Bryant said. “At the end of the day there’s only so many interviews you can do and stories you can write. You have to do something that carries more weight and has more significance and purpose to it.
“My career is winding down and at the end of it, I want to look back and said I had a successful career because I won so many championships and scored so many points. There’s something else you have to do with that.”
For all the debates we have around here about Kobe, his place in the game’s history, whether he’s still got it and whether he ranks on par (or beneath) Michael Jordan, this is one time when we can suspend the drama and applaud a player for being a human being first.
Love him or loathe him as a player, I dare even his biggest critics to object to anything he’s doing with My Friend’s Place. This is the sort of work fans of every team want to see their star players doing away from the game, using their considerable resources and influence to improve the lives of others who are maybe not as fortunate.
We can get back to the debates later.
But not right now …