- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

There’s a heck of a basketball team in heaven.

In one month, we’ve lost former NBA Commissioner David Stern, former DeMatha High School legendary coach Morgan Wootten and NBA Hall of Fame shoo-in Kobe Bryant.

What’s more, Kobe’s second-born — 13-year-old Gianna, a baller like her dad — was called to glory, too.

They both were on that fateful helicopter in Southern California on Sunday.

And do you know what she used to say if Kobe was teased or jostled about not having a son to follow in his unbelievable shoes? “I got this.”

She was her father’s daughter, one of the reasons why the death of Kobe, at 41, was so shocking.

See, it’s not that Kobe was as a perfect human. He ailed like other athletes, and fingers wagged when he was accused of assaulting a Colorado hotel worker.

I recall several NBA players even suggesting that the assault could have happened because Kobe didn’t hang out with them after games.

Perhaps it didn’t dawn on them that Kobe was doing what Kobe always did: Study games and practice. That’s right, practice.

Kobe was a student of the game of basketball. His girlfriends harrumphed about his fixation on the sport, even watching tapes during their dates.

Coach Wootten relished such a work ethic.

Wootten, who coached one of my brothers-in-law, was a stickler for the fundamentals of basketball and academics. He was a teacher, too, of history — which means repetition after repetition until you get it right.

You could count on Wootten’s players going on to play college ball and even make it to the NBA, too.

And that’s where David Stern comes in. He used his legal mind to groom and expand the NBA into global entity, bringing in Yugoslavians, Chinese and Canadian players — including Canadian franchises.

He died Jan. 1, and Wootten died last week. Both are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — Wootten as the first entrant based solely on a high school coaching record.

Kobe is a 2020 inductee and will be honored posthumously.

NBA Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo said 2020 is “expected to be the most epic class ever with Kobe, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Kobe will be honored the way he should be.”

May all three men rest in peace for helping fans remember why they shout, “I love this game.”

⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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