Born from the stars, he graced us with his presence in the form of basketball. An entity that transpired between worlds of what was ordinary and what was extraordinary. A figure that defined life inside the paint and outside the three-point line. When Kobe Bryant died alongside his daughter in the most unforgiving way, it was a cruel reminder that this God sent creature, was in fact, human like the rest of us.
It was a measure of immortality and in the twisted theatrical comedy of life, he reached his eternal marker through his death.
Tens of thousands gathered, and continued to gather, around Staples Center and across the south land to mourn and grieve his passing. The House that Kobe Built.What he accomplished in his career as a NBA athlete had posterized already him but what is left to come will forever be in the remembrance of his name; a bronze statue, an induction to the Hall of Fame, a myriad of post-humous murals- anything to remind us that this legend will never die.
My relation to Kobe was small, but significant to say the least.
I followed him in the golden years of his career- after the NBA titles, after the torn achilles, after the 80-point game; rather, I saw him when he once clocked in a total of nine minutes of playtime and was seen more in designer suits than in the beloved purple and gold jersey. I spent a short while at a sports blog as an intern, really learning the game of basketball for the first time. It was no longer a game of who can make the most baskets but a matter of who got the lob and how many fast breaks or turnovers occurred in a single game. In his golden years, I saw him as a mentor to our once young core.
Before I really got into sports the Lakers and Dodgers games were just something played as background television noise while I helped my mom with dinner. I knew who Kobe Bryant was because the way he played would affect whether or not it was ok to talk to my dad at the dinner table. If I heard profanity, it was a warning sign but if I heard clapping and the “there you go!” peace was in the household. The same way Eric Gagné would pitch a successful or unsuccessful inning. I was a child, and I remember seeing my dad so excited and so angry over these games that I somehow out of his three children ended up being just like him when it comes to the matter. So in love with a team, so loyal and hurt over these wins and losses.
When I found out about the passing of Gianna Bryant, I was gutted. In some ways her relationship with her dad reminded me of my own. I felt a strange connection with the father daughter duo going to basketball games and watching their favorite players. As I got older attending these live sporting events with my own father became the bond that only him and I share in the family. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow a connection with him through the Lakers and through the Dodgers and through the Rams. When his coworkers ask if he’s taking his son to the game he responds, “No, my daughter.”
Kobe said he was proud to be the father of four girls and said he was a girl dad. I found comfort in knowing this. Sharing a love for the game with your child is a treasure that any parent would ask for. It’s been five days since their deaths and I still find myself with an unrecognizable grief. I ache in thought of what Gigi could have shown the world in women’s basketball and how her fadeaway jumper mimicked that of her father’s. To lose a soul so young.. it will never make sense.
The morning the Los Angeles Lakers were to return to Staples Center for one of the last preseason games, sports reporter Serena Winters sat in front of her Starbucks attired in gym clothes with a Robeks smoothie at hand.
“I’ll get [to Staples Center] at 4 p.m.,” said Winters. “When I get to the arena usually I’m around the court talking to people, watching what’s going on, seeing D’Angelo Russell shoot… We then do a pregame media availability for [Head Coach] Byron Scott [then] the game starts at 7 p.m.”
Winters, 27, is the lead field reporter for the sports writing blog, LakersNation.com. Her 24/7 schedule revolves around the team of purple and gold as she also contributes to Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet: Access Lakers and radio shows like The Beast 980 AM.
“Once the game ends around 10 something there is then head coach post game availability,” said Winters. “Once we finish that up, it’s past 11 p.m., we go back to the interview room, my camera guy and I, and get a post game story. We post videos around 12:30 a.m. Send video links to [our editor-in-chief]. Maybe we get lucky it’s around 1 a.m. but usually around 2 a.m. is when I get home. Then the next day I wake up and its practice at 11 a.m. so I drive to El Segundo to get more stories from players.”
At 5-foot-5 and 115-pounds, her petite toned frame can be contrasted against the 6-foot-6 athletes weighing well over 215 pounds; but her confidence in the sport equates to theirs. Winters, a Huntington Beach local, grew up in the world of sports where her niches were basketball, golf, and track. She also excelled in academics throughout high school and college, earing a 4.8 GPA at Huntington Beach High School and graduating Magna Cum Laude at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Winters was raised an only child. She was kept very active throughout her youth. Her parents put her in theatre classes when she was younger and her father would have her read to him aloud to discover new words. Alongside being a tri-varsity athlete in high school, Winters was also part of the Model United Nations where she and her club members would take on the role as economic leaders of a specific country and debate against other mock leaders of different clubs.
Chris Evans, Winters’s mother, said one facet in raising her was that she wanted her daughter to act appropriate for her age.
“A lot of things kids do in today’s world, I think that all needs to be very well watched,” said Evans.
Winters’s father passed away when she was 12 but both she and her mother credit him for her involvement in sports.
“When I was kid I think most of my pressure came from myself,” Winters said. “I felt pressure to get straight A’s and be the best athlete but my parents were really supportive. My dad always wanted me to be smart so everything was more to please my parents.”
Her piercing blue eyes and contagious smile broke into a laugh however when she spoke about her competitiveness, but her freckled skin and owl shaped glasses aren’t too threatening.
“The first thing that comes to mind about Serena is that she is always very hardworking,” said Jeff Payetta, 26, her boyfriend of four years and childhood friend. “She was always very good in school, which I can’t say the same for myself.”
Winters created an extensive portfolio during and after her college career. Her list of internships range from working at ESPN with the Jim Rome Is Burning show to working in the social media department on Fuel TV, to reporting color commentary for the men’s basketball team at UCSB, and eventually interning with the Lakers.
While she was commuting from Huntington Beach to Santa Barbara, Winters’s income came from valeting at the Hyatt in Newport Beach.
Always looking for her next move, she applied to Lakers Nation and was again, taken on as an unpaid intern. Her previous connection with the Lakers allowed for one-on-one interviews with the players while she attended practices. Winters eventually earned her spot as a full time reporter for Lakers Nation in October of 2012. She proved her worth over the next year to Lakers Public Relations and was given season credentials. This move gave the sports blogging website a major push into the media industry.
The website currently claims a following of 2.5 million on Facebook and a community of nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter.
However, there is a backlash for new media reporters from old media reporters. Winters says that coming from an online world there is still a divide in people who are stuck on traditional media.
“Even though they are friends of mine, like newspapers [reporters] … I feel like they are talking behind my back,” said Winters. “[I’m] still at the forefront with online media because a lot of people still ask me advice for video or YouTube. Whether or not you like it, media is clearly changing.”
Winters cracks a smile over the negative connotation of online media because it’s something she hears on a daily basis. But she says that despite the criticism, no one works harder than her.
Because of her role as a reporter, she does not consider herself a PR representative for the Lakers. She has yet to write something specifically the team has asked her to do but she chooses to avoid family issues. She reports on facts, gameplay and quotes said by the team to provide context for Lakers Nation.
In one post-game availability conference Winters took heat for asking a decisive question.
“I had a PR pull me aside and threaten to take my credential away … I was told that it wasn’t my place to ask that that question,” said Winters.
The question was when she asked Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant what he thought of his ESPN ranking of 40 out of top 500 players in the NBA last year. The five time NBA champion replied with “they’re a bunch of idiots”
The response generated a heavy news flow for sports media outlets and commentators. Winters held her ground for asking a fair question that produced a good answer. She writes what she knows based on certain things; commenting and critiquing players’ performances rather than coaching decisions.
Winters and her videographer Andrew Martinez, easily work over 40 hours in a five or six day work week to provide nonstop information for one of the country’s largest fan base. The two spend more time with each other than their own friends and family. Martinez has been working with Winters for the past two years and says he learned much from her.
“I’ve never been in sports media,” said Martinez, 28. “Serena is like a mentor to me… She helps me understand the journalism part of it all.”
Winters says being a woman in the sports industry faces its own obstacles in itself.
“As a female I feel like it takes so much more to build respect, especially in a male dominated industry,” said Winters. “A male in this industry can make one mistake and it’ll blow over. As a female you can work five to 10 years, but you make one mistake and your reputation is over.” Winters dresses, speaks, and works in a specific style to make herself professionally presentable.
In her experience in the sports industry she says one of the most difficult parts is managing other personalities. Winters labels herself as a perfectionist and when it comes to getting her job done correctly, it is her utmost priority. If someone else is not reciprocating the effort, characters begin to clash .
“In a male dominated industry it becomes more challenging to ask why does this get done improperly. There are no open conversations, they get defensive,” said Winters. “It’s personal. Men just want power… I’m not sure if that’s what it is, but men want power.”
Her stern belief is that she does not want others to out work her and while some may view this as unappealing, many respect her for it.
“There is this intimidation factor working with her because she knows what she is talking about,” said Martinez. “But once you start talking to her she’s laid back and funny and the intimidation factor goes away.
“What I like best about Serena is that she is very talkative… she makes it a point to make a person feel special,” said Payetta. “She also has an excellent choice in food.”
A medium rare steak filet or yellowtail sushi tops the list of Winters’s favorite food.
When Winters is not practicing Muy Thai or competing against her boyfriend in golf, she likes to relax with her English Bull Terrior, Bruno.
***This story was written in 2015 as a feature profile assignment for a college course. I worked briefly with Serena as a previous intern for LakersNation. She was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to give me a lengthy two-hour interview for my assignment.