In a viral Facebook post written the day Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others were killed in a Los Angeles-area helicopter crash, Kristen O’Connor Hecht recalled the time the Lakers star visited a dying boy in the ICU of an Arizona hospital.
Hecht — the wife of former Phoenix Suns director of corporate partnerships Tom Hecht — said she was working at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center when she was approached by a cardiologist with a request. With the Lakers due to play the Suns that week, the doctor asked if Tom could somehow have Bryant sign a basketball for a dying 5-year-old boy who was also named Kobe.
“I called Tom at the Phoenix Suns making the request, believing that there would be virtually no way this would happen,” Hecht wrote in her post, adding that little Kobe had a heart defect. “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.”
But to her surprise, Tom said Bryant wasn’t just going to autograph a ball — he was going to visit the boy in person.
The very next day, Bryant was secretly driven to the hospital, where Hecht snuck him up to little Kobe’s room in the 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,” she wrote. “Several autographed items were left and many photos were taken.”
While the machines connected to Kobe were “dinging, whirring and alarming,” his doctor grinned “ear to ear” as his patient played with his hero.
But, as Hecht soon found out, Bryant was just as touched by the visit as the boy.
When time came for the five-time NBA champion to leave, he asked Hecht if there was any way he could help with the boy’s treatment.
“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,” Hecht recalled, before adding that the boy was too sick to receive a heart transplant.
“I was floored. I was floored not only by his sincerity and offer of generosity but the kindness and warmth he displayed,” she added of Bryant.
The boy died the following week. Hecht would soon receive an emotional letter from the boy’s mother thanking her for the visit with Bryant.
“She said those were the most joyful moments of his entire life,” Hecht said the letter read. “The photos were the only photos she had of him smiling.”
Hecht said she was told that Bryant regularly visited sick children, but always requested no publicity at the meetings.
“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…’ ” Hecht wrote in her post. “May God shine eternal light upon your soul, Kobe.”
An investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and their friends, is still ongoing.