Kobe Bryant’s Mistake and the Lesson for Our Youth

Kobe Bryant was my favorite basketball player growing up—an idol of sorts. I would often try to emulate his moves on the basketball court, and always yell out “Kobe!” every time I’d shoot anything into a trashcan. His posters were on my wall, his jerseys were in my dresser. I was the ultimate Kobe fan…

But that would soon be tested in the winter of 2010.

 Kobe’s last game in Toronto was on Dec. 7; a little over a week ago, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015-2016 season. (Photo: NBA)
Kobe’s last game in Toronto was on Dec. 7; a little over a week ago, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015-2016 season. (Photo: NBA)

It was a little under five years ago when I found myself in a predicament. I had heard the news about Kobe’s decision to sign an endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines—a decision that would add to the profits of a government that continues to benefit from the wholesale murder of Armenians and their dispossession. I despised that government; was I now to loathe this man, too?

A Turkish Airlines ad featuring Kobe Bryant
A Turkish Airlines ad featuring Kobe Bryant

As a young member of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada at the time, it was inspiring to see our Western United States ungers taking the lead on the effort to tell the world why this was a misstep for Kobe. They would start a campaign urging the National Basketball Association’s top superstar to rescind his contract with Turkish Airlines and to make a statement separating himself from the actions of the government of Turkey.

The Armenian youth felt as if Kobe’s deal with the devil stood in stark contrast to public statements he had made calling for an end to the genocide in Darfur. Moreover, Turkey’s long list of human rights violations, including its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide, restrictions on free speech and expression, and its continued support of the genocidal government of Sudan, were enough evidence that the endorsement would seriously damage Kobe’s reputation.

At the time, several media outlets started becoming interested in the AYF Western Region’s campaign urging Bryant to drop his Turkish deal. What began as coverage in the local Armenian press quickly snowballed into coverage from major media outlets. Soon, the local affiliates of mass media giants like Fox and CBS were interviewing familiar faces across the border. Kobe’s star power had worked in our favor, and the Armenian youth took advantage of the situation to make their voice heard.

It was also around this time that Kobe’s team, the Los Angeles Lakers, was preparing to come to Toronto for an away game against my beloved Toronto Raptors. Normally, I wouldn’t pass up the chance to see my favorite basketball player in action, but his recent decision had upset me tremendously. In retrospect, it was probably naive to think that our message would be reason enough for him to drop the deal. It probably didn’t even occur to him to reverse his decision.

'We held banners that read “Kobe: Do the Right Thing,” and “Morals over Money,” but not a whole lot of people paid much attention to us.' (Photo: AYF Canada)
‘We held banners that read “Kobe: Do the Right Thing,” and “Morals over Money,” but not a whole lot of people paid much attention to us.’ (Photo: AYF Canada)

The night before Kobe’s Toronto game, a group of friends were over at my place. We were watching videos on YoutTube of our California ungers talking about Armenian cause to reporters visiting the AYF headquarters in Glendale. It was then—less than 24 hours before tip-off in Toronto—that we decided to join the protest and hold a demonstration outside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. And so it began: a trip to the 24-hour Home Depot for supplies; the preparation of press releases, media advisories, and protest banners; drafting speaking points in case we met members of the media; and printing out fact-sheets about the Armenian Genocide. Time wasn’t on our side, but we didn’t really care…the truth definitely was.

We went into the bitter Toronto cold head-first, not knowing what to expect. Less than 30 of us, determined to get the word out about what we considered a big mistake. We held banners that read “Kobe: Do the Right Thing,” and “Morals over Money,” but not a whole lot of people paid much attention to us. The protest would last less than half an hour—it didn’t take long for the staff at the arena to escort us off the property. Our lack of preparation time hadn’t allowed us to file for a permit to hold a demonstration. But what was to follow our last-ditch effort was nothing short of amazing.

Kobe’s last game in Toronto was on Dec. 7; a little over a week ago, Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015-2016 season. Considering I would never see him play in my city again, I decided to tune into the game on my laptop. It’s safe to say that he wasn’t the shining star I had once tried to imitate while playing the game I loved. The years had caught up to Kobe, and the now-37-year-old looked like he was, in fact, ready for retirement.

'We went into the bitter Toronto cold head-first, not knowing what to expect.' (Photo: AYF Canada)
‘We went into the bitter Toronto cold head-first, not knowing what to expect.’ (Photo: AYF Canada)

After the closing buzzer and a well-deserved win by the home team, I thought back to that cold December day in 2010, when my friends and I decided to greet the superstar with protest banners. I also thought back to the press coverage our last-minute demonstration had received. I decided to do a Google search of the protest and saw several articles—both in the local and international press—that wrote about our effort. I began to reminisce. It was endearing to re-read the rushed press releases we had blasted out to any news station we had an e-mail address for. Then, scrolling down the list of search results, I stumbled onto something that caught me off guard. Our little stunt was referenced in an American college-level textbook on international entrepreneurship as a case study of an advertising campaign gone wrong (International Entrepreneurship: Starting, Developing, and Managing a Global Venture, by Robert D. Hisrich).

I couldn’t have felt prouder.

We didn’t think much about our protest that cold December day—it could have been better planned and executed. But to see our efforts mentioned in a passage in a textbook five years later made it all worthwhile.

It’s been almost a year since my friends and I graduated the ranks of the AYF; our days of organizing last-minute demonstrations are over. But after my Google search into the past, I am convinced that the youth has no reason to think it can’t effect change.

The truth is on your side, ungerner. Seize the moment and make a difference.

'Our little stunt was referenced in an American college-level textbook on international entrepreneurship as a case study of an advertising campaign gone wrong.'
‘Our little stunt was referenced in an American college-level textbook on international entrepreneurship as a case study of an advertising campaign gone wrong.’
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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.

9 Comments

  1. I found it hilarious at the time that Armenians were bitter about a professional athlete ebdorsing Turkish products. What if he turned around and said, “You guys are hypocrites”. “Every Armenian store sells Turkish products in their stores. The biggest importer of Turkish products, Kradjian, is Armenian.” How would any Armenian answer to that? Before we ask any non-Armenians to ban Turkish products, maybe the Armenian consumer should stop buying Turkish products sold in Armenian stores, imported by Kradjian, an Armenian.

    • “Turkish products ”

      Unfortunately very high quality with more affordable prices…

      Btw, Hellim cheese is a registered trade mark of Turkish Cyprus.
      And; Yoğurt is Turkish, not Greek.
      Like Baklava, Sarma, Dolma, Döner are…

  2. So proud of our Armenian youth. Every small effort counts in many levels. Even if you reach one important person, that’s a major difference in the long run.Kobe will retire and you never know when he will bring this issue into public in a different view and again make a difference for our community….

  3. 1. Those Kobe-Messi commercials Turkish Airlines had were awesome
    2. I’m in LA for a few days and I noticed a peculiar ad on the back of the buses of the LA metro: “Discover Turkey” and underneath it said Turkish Airlines. I guess the LA city government is also making money from the wholesale murder of the Armenians? Right? When are the protests planned in front of city hall?

  4. Good article and sentimental indeed. I do not understand why we have to crucify Kobe Bryant for doing a simple advertisement for Turkish Airlines. What I know is that many of us in the Middle East including many Armenians from Yerevan fly Turkish Airways because the airline offer good deals and flies in an efficient manner. I wish sometimes we look at ourselves and wander why Armenia does not even have a national Airline. The last time I flew Armavir, I was subjected to intimidation, extortion and was demanded to pay an astronomic charges for extra luggage. In the end, my friend negotiated and made a settlement for a 100.00 US Dollars in cash bribe in order for me to continue my journey. After such corrupt administrative habits, Armavir has gone bankrupt leaving no viable Armenian Airline in the country. These are the more relevant and worthy matters deserving coverage. Criticizing Mr. Bryn does not solve the fact that we can not have a functional Airlines in Armenia. When we learn to criticize and expose our ill habits and unacceptable business practices, we would, one day have a National Armenian Airlines.

  5. An example of ignorance and conceit on Kobe Bryant’s part. The money he received was a drop in a bucket, considering the millions he has made in his NBA career
    –a mere blip on the radar screen as they say.
    He will not be missed.

  6. I am proud of these passionate Armenian youths! Good going, kids! You made it into the textbooks for having appropriately, very appropriately, embarrassed Kobe Bryant and Turkey. Please remember, Kobe Bryant was accused of rape. Expecting him to do the right, moral thing is likely to be hopeless. But good gor you for protesting, and not letti g him get away scot free! Bravo!

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