Kobe Bryant (left) sits with Columbia boys basketball coach Dr. Phil McCrary in 2007 as Bryant talks with students at the DeKalb County school. Students asked if he'd come to Columbia's boys basketball game the next night. He obliged. Photo: Mark Brock/DeKalb County Athletics
Bryant posed for photos and signed autographs. Some of the students suggested to Bryant that he come to Columbia’s basketball game the next night. He said he would. He had a game of his own first, though. The Lakes would beat the Hawks 90-83 that night. Bryant scored 27 points.
The next night, Bryant was back at Columbia. He arrived after tipoff of a game against St. Pius and took a seat behind Columbia’s bench with his agent at the time, Rob Pelinka, who is now the Lakers’ general manager.
“That night was unbelievable,” McCrary said. “We had planned for him to sit behind the bench and the game was already underway when he got in and got his seat.”
Jordan Lemons, now a paraprofessional at Columbia, was a starter on that Columbia team.
“We got to play a game in front of one of the all-time great NBA players that night,” Lemons said. “That is a memory no one can take away from us. It is still something the people at Columbia take pride in to this day. I’m thankful to him and the people at Nike for making it happen.”
Columbia won the game 63-18. Bryant later complimented the players on their hustle. McCrary said that Bryant later mailed him an autographed basketball.
Bryant perished with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in the accident. There were no survivors.
“It was tragedy for all involved,” said McCrary. “Life is short and you have to live it to the fullest.”