Longtime Lakers Fan Arsenio Hall Reflects on Kobe Bryant's Career Before His Final Game
The comedian and courtside regular recalls first meeting 'The Black Mamba,' attending college games with him and his dream of the basketball player remaking '48 Hours' with Barack Obama.
Arsenio Hall, the comedian and former talk show host, has been cheering for the Lakers since the early 1980s. Not only is he a courtside fixture at games but he's friends with many former players, including Lakers legend Magic Johnson. And he'll be attending Kobe Bryant's final NBA game tonight at the Staples Center versus the Utah Jazz. Bryant is wrapping up a 20-year career — all with the Lakers (an NBA record). In advance of tonight's action, Hall took a few minutes to talk with The Hollywood Reporter about his first meeting with Bryant, what he's like off the court and his dream of a Kobe-Obama buddy picture.
You're going to the game tonight. What are you thinking about right now?
I remember standing with Magic and meeting Kobe the first time. I'm one of those guys — I'd love to be hard, but I'm not. I could almost cry thinking about that day to this day. I don't know how I'm going to handle tonight as a fan. Cause I'm such a huge fan of the game, and if you're a huge fan of the game then forget the teams, who roots for who. If you love the game and you're a huge fan of the game, if you know this game that Dr. Naismith created with peach baskets and you truly love it, you have to be connected to this man's departure tonight. It means something to you. I'm not talking about teams anymore. I'm talking loving this damn game. He has been so special. He's given so much to it. And I remember standing in the Great Western Forum, and this kid with this amazing smile and his little afro walks up to me, shakes my hand, talks to me for a moment. And to remember that moment, in the corner of the court, standing next to Glenn Frey at the Great Western Forum. It's just incredibly sentimental. I get choked up going from that day to this day.
Do you have a special memory of Kobe?
I remember this time there was this shoe that nobody could get. All the kids were tripping and like the next day, the shoe arrives at my office. And I don't even know how Kobe knew. I think he heard through some people that I had said something, but I didn't mean for it — the shoe just came. I didn't ask him. The shoe just came. I remember another situation with Kobe where he wanted to watch Adam Morrison [a college star at Gonzaga who went third in the NBA draft]. We went out to watch him at Pepperdine, if I remember correctly, it was a Pepperdine-Gonzaga game, and Kobe had his two daughters, and my son got to sit close to Kobe. That was the greatest for my son.
What's it like sitting in the stands with Kobe?
He really watched the game, and the only time Kobe wasn't obsessed with watching the game was maybe his daughters said something. At that point you clearly see he's a dad first, a baller second. Sometimes I just like to be the voice of that opposite experience, and know him as a man and off the court. He's really, really a special kind of guy. You don't hear that about him as a player.
What's he like off the court?
Incredibly bright. The one thing I noticed about the moments I've been with him — he' not like Magic, not like a close personal friend; Magic's like my brother — the one thing I noticed about Kobe and Phil Jackson is they were much smarter than I expected. You can mention a book and Kobe will know the book. That kind of thing. Really smart guy.
Where does he rank among the pantheon of Laker greats?
My Laker Mount Rushmore always creates arguments. It's harder to create an ideal Mount Rushmore when you know the guys, because you can't help but to get personal. I really, really love Jerry West. He's such a great guy, a humble guy. Here's a guy who's never satisfied. I talked to Jerry West about his game and about the past. He's never happy with the way he does things but he's so f—ing humble, it's amazing. He reminds me of Richard Pryor. He's the greatest, but you wouldn't know it if you talked to him. My Mount Rushmore includes him, because he's such a wonderful guy and he's always been a good friend to me. I put Kobe there. I'd obviously put Magic, my little brother there, and I put Shaq in there. It's partially because they were great for the team, but I know all four of them as being wonderful men, wonderful citizens, wonderful fathers. That's important to me, because the world's watching, children are watching, and those four guys are special players and special human beings and citizens.
What do you think post-playing Kobe will do?
It's funny to say that, because I was about tweet George Lopez, and my tweet — I didn't even hit send, but my tweet was gonna be "What does the Mamba do Thursday morning?" I know there's a Kobe Inc. and what that's all about. Now if I had my guess of course, I'm not an athlete nor a serious thinker, but my favorite: He loves film, very smart about film; he loves to be involved. I'd like to see a Barack Obama and Kobe Bryant buddy comedy — a remake of 48 Hours. They both gotta be idols, they both seem to have one eye on Hollywood. I have been noticing President Obama has his connections here, his involvement here. You can't help but think, does he really want to be a star? Does he want to come out here? Does he want to run Paramount? But the bottom line is, if I could rub a lamp I would get a remake of 48 Hours with those two.
Man, if there's a mythical Sunday morning pickup game at your house with Obama, Kobe, Magic and you, I want an invite.
That would be great. I think we should do it at Jeffrey Katzenberg's house, cause I know he can get Barack over to the house. And we should do it, the basket against the garage at Katzenberg's house.