Kobe lets humor flow with Cabbie

Cabral 'Cabbie' Richards has been granted unprecedented access to Kobe Bryant. Getty Images

Every great athlete in sports history it seems has had a reporter sidekick. Muhammad Ali had Howard Cossell, Michael Jordan had Ahmad Rashad and Kobe Bryant has Cabbie.

If you haven't heard of Cabbie, that's OK. He's not on U.S. television. He's a cable television personality in Canada who has somehow driven around L.A. with Bryant in a limo, flown with him to practice on his personal helicopter and changed the way an entire country views one of the most enigmatic personalities in sports.

Cabbie, whose real name is Cabral Richards, first met Bryant in December 2005 when the Lakers were in Toronto to play the Raptors. "I was doing a piece on bandwagon fans so I went up to him with a pad of paper and asked how he felt about bandwagon fans and asked him to draw a bandwagon for me," Cabbie said. "He said, 'I can't draw, I suck.' At the end of the interview I said 'I'm going to be in L.A. in a couple months would you mind if I stayed at the guest house in Casa de Bryant' and he said OK."

The simple request ended up being the springboard to a four-year running joke where Cabbie asks Bryant when he'll be able to sleep over at his house. It also has given Canadian viewers a window into a humorous side of Bryant many American fans haven't seen. When Cabbie, after a Lakers-Raptors game, asked Bryant for his address, Kobe said, "Sure, it's 8 Out of your mind Avenue." When he saw him a couple of months later and asked for his phone number, Bryant said, "Sure, it's 1-800 Never ever ever call me ever."

"I ended up seeing him four times in the span of three months so he knew what I was about and became familiar with my shtick," Cabbie said. "I just continued with the whole staying at his house bit and started giving him gifts. Once I gave him pajamas, another time I brought him CDs. I think Kobe trusts me now where he can lower his guard and just have fun."

Bryant lowered his guard with Cabbie so much he gave him and his camera crew the first -- and still only -- ride on the helicopter he rides to practices and games to avoid traffic. Cabbie flew with Bryant the day the Lakers played the Miami Heat and Bryant hit the buzzer-beater over Dwyane Wade to win the game.

"When we were in the helicopter all strapped in and going up, the moment hit me, 'I can't believe I'm in a helicopter with Kobe Bryant,' " Cabbie said. "This doesn't make any sense. I'm just some kid from Toronto. I'm just some idiot from Canada and I'm in a helicopter with Kobe Bryant."

The trip took about 20 minutes and was filmed for Cabbie's popular segment on The Score, "Cabbie on the Street." During the trip, Bryant said the helicopter cost him about as much as his Ferrari California ($250,000) and saves him over an hour of travel time a day so he can spend more time with his kids. He said he drives from his home in Newport Beach to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana where a helicopter takes him to LAX for practices or to a helipad on top of an office building in Downtown L.A. for games. In either case, a driver is waiting for him to take him to the practice facility or Staples Center.

"I don't know how I get the access I get. It probably helps that I'm Canadian," Cabbie said. "I'm not in his face all the time. I don't know how you Americans view us Canadians. We're kind of strange and I certainly don't represent most Canadians because I'm extremely strange."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.