Many years ago, I worked as a VIP flight attendant for 17 different NBA teams, several NFL, NHL and MLB teams as well as some notable figures in the music and film industry. The NBA clientele included the Lakers, Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks, Kings, Nets, Timberwolves, Warriors, Clippers, Hawks, Suns, Celtics, Grizzlies, Pacers, 76’ers, Nuggets and Wizards

I met Kobe Bryant in 1998, his rookie year, and contrary to what many sports writers reported he was a fun-loving, easy-going member of the Lakers squad. Kobe spent a good amount of time writing rap lyrics. Once he deemed them perfected, he would participate in rhyme battles with his teammates. Granted that team was different from the championship Lakers – Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, and Elden Campbell were on the squad – still Kobe was a regular guy, as regular as anyone can be in L.A., swimming in the fish bowl known as the National Basketball Association.

After the arrival of Phil Jackson and the champs came into existence, Kobe became a bit more reserved, but it wasn’t all that significant. Hell, Robert Horry never sat or socialized in the players section, Shaq rarely, but Kobe was ever present, sitting in a row alone like he’d always done. In October of 2001 the Lakers met President Bush at the White House to celebrate their 2nd consecutive championship. On the return flight from Washington to L.A., I noticed Kobe was on his cell phone a little more than usual, sort of whispering. “You have a girlfriend,” I exclaimed. A scowl was his only response. This, from the same kid who three years before asked me if I knew any girls his age. “It’s a good thing” I said filling in the awkward silence. Three years had stripped him of his innocence and likely a great deal of his privacy.

I remember going out to an L.A. nightclub with two relatively obscure Denver Nuggets players around that same time. No one knew their names but their 6’10 foot frames gave a clue to their occupations. Like buzzards, men and women alike gawked, hovered, and ultimately made contact. It didn’t matter that no one knew who the hell they were. It was really weird and kind of scary at the same time. The rookie, who eventually became a veteran with the Orlando Magic, was shaken.  Because some people don’t allow them private moments, many players don’t go out. A woman at the bar made some kind of flirtatious overture when she thought I and the other woman accompanying us were not looking. The male fans were even worse, more talkative and persistent.

During the NBA All-Star weekend in 2002 in Washington D.C. a friend told me he drove to the party he was supposed to be hosting and just kept going – he just didn’t feel up to being in a crowd. In public, players are subject to the will of the fans. Yet, if pressed I think most would choose notoriety over a life of obscurity any day. Kobe certainly had a right to keep a romance private, but I, perhaps unlike some others, truly didn’t have any vested interest or ulterior motive. Not long that after that flight, he announced he was engaged.

I may have, but I don’t remember ever seeing Kobe again – I moved away from Los Angeles thus I began to travel with different teams, but my memories of him were of a bright, sweet, young man. Seeing the photos of him, his beautiful daughter and the seven others who perished last week flooding social media is so painful for me, I simply cannot fathom what their families and close friends are experiencing. God bless them all at this most difficult time. I chose this recipe because in life we must accept the bitter along with the sweet.

Citrus Custard Cream Pie

  • 1 1/2 Organic Graham Cracker Crumbs (approx. 8 Crackers)
  • 3 Organic Egg Yolks
  • 1 14 ounce can Organic Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 Pat of Organic Salted Buttter
  • 1/3 Cup Melted Organic Salted Butter
  • 3/4 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon and Pink Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Organic Demerara Sugar
  • 1 Pint Organic Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Organic Agave Syrup
  • A Pinch of Organic Thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With the pat of butter, grease a 9 1/2 inch pie pan. Melt the butter and mix into the graham cracker crumbs along with the sugar completely incorporating the components. Press the crumb mixture into the pie pan carefully making sure it adheres. Set aside. Separate the yolks from the egg whites and combine with the condensed milk and citrus juice. Pour mixture into pie crust and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool and place pie in the refrigerator to chill. Once pie is chilled, combine the whipping cream, agave and thyme in a mixing bowl and whip with a hand mixer until the cream becomes stiff. Top pie with the whipped cream. Serves 10-16.

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