Since Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, people have been sharing stories about the legendary Laker and how he touched their lives.
One woman, Kristen O’Connor Hecht, was a cardiologist at at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona and her husband Tom was the Phoenix Suns director of corporate partnerships at the time.
Dr. Hecht called her husband and asked if it was at all possible for Bryant to sign a basketball for a 5-year-old boy named Kobe who had a terminal heart defect. She recounted the story on Facebook in a post that has gone massively viral.
Hecht explained that Bryant didn’t just sign a basketball.
“So I have a story…When we lived in Phoenix, frequently my and Tom’s paths would cross in our work. A pediatric cardiologist I worked with asked me if Tom could get an autographed something from the Lakers for a 5 year old dying patient who was named Kobe. He was from one of the reservations in Arizona where basketball is life.
I called Tom at the Phoenix Suns making the request, believing that there would be virtually no way this would happen. The Lakers were coming to play the Suns later in the week. A day later Tom called me and said, ‘He’ll do it!’ I was thrilled and thought I’d bring the ball or whatever it was to work. Tom said, ‘No, he read your story and he wants to come and meet the little boy.’ I was floored!”
Bryant showed up in secret and spent hours at the hospital with little Kobe.
“So the next day, with the support of the Colangelo family, a limousine brought Kobe Bryant to my office. Under a cloak of secrecy – neither security or PR people were informed (I got in a little trouble for that but it was so worth it!) the three of us scrambled up a back staircase to this little boy’s room in cardiac ICU. For the better part of an hour they played basketball, passing it back and forth, with little Kobe, laughing, his sweet Mama smiling and laughing. Several autographed items were left and many photos were taken. The machines keeping him alive were dinging, whirring and alarming and his doc was just grinning from ear to ear, as Tom and I stood nervously watching this unbelievable scene unfold before us.
As we got back in the limo, Kobe turned to me and said, ‘Kristen, what can I do to help? Is it a financial thing? Because I can take care of that.’ It wasn’t. (The little boy had a heart defect and was too ill for a transplant.) I was floored. I was floored not only by his sincerity and offer of generosity, but the kindness and warmth he displayed. “
Dr. Hecht later found out that this was a common practice for Bryant.
“Little Kobe passed away the following week. About three weeks later I got a letter from Little Kobe’s mom describing the power in those moments. She said those were the most joyful moments of his entire life. The photos were the only photos she had of him smiling. According to Kobe Bryant’s PR people he did this everywhere but the deal was – no PR. From that day on he has been my hero and when people would tell me they didn’t like him, I would say, ‘Let me tell you a story…’. May God shine eternal light upon your soul, Kobe.”
Bryant clearly leaves behind an incredible legacy both on and off the court.