My dad never had a son.

But that didn’t keep him from sharing his love of basketball.

As a kid, he’d quiz me on the names of some of the players past and present from his favorite team—the Lakers.

He’d say their first name, I’d respond enthusiastically with their last.

It was our own little comedy routine.

“AC” he’d say.

“Green!” I’d respond.

“Magic…?” he’d question.

“Johnson!” I’d scream, beaming from ear to ear.

“Kareem…” he’d continue.

“Abdul Jabar!” I’d squeal.

Down the list he’d go and I’d never miss a name—Vlade Divac, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis...you get the idea.

I don’t think I knew it then, but knowing their names made it easier to connect to the sport. It made the purple and gold flecks running across our Zenith TV screen a little more human.

When I was in middle school, my dad told me some kid joined the Lakers.

He was only 7 years older than me.

“He’s really good,” Dad explained.

He had a unique name from the start, but the life he led solidified the fact that it would never be...