On Nov. 14, 2018, a nondescript envelope arrived in the mail at the Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan. Across the top corner of the envelope was a return address, and the only name listed was KVBFF.
It’s a day Trent Jones never will forget.
“I opened it, and I saw the check, and I looked over the letter and then I saw his name,” Jones, the club’s executive director, told The Mercury on Monday night.
The name: Kobe Bryant. KVBFF stands for the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation.
The size of the check: $15,000.
“I just sat there for a few minutes in silence,” Jones said. “I just kept saying, ‘Oh my word. Oh my word.’ One of my staff members who was next to me said, ‘What? Is it bad news?’ I was like, ‘No, this is huge news.’ It was an absolute shock at the size of that check. An absolute shock.”
The sizable check came because of “Tex” Winter, who died Oct. 10, 2018. An all-time great coach for the Kansas State men’s basketball program, Winter went on to become a longtime assistant in the NBA under the legendary Phil Jackson. During Winter’s time with the Los Angeles Lakers, he became a mentor to Bryant.
“From what we learned, when Kobe saw that Winter had listed us an organization in his obit,” Jones said, “he sent that donation over.”
The more Jones learned about Bryant’s background, however, the less the gift surprised him. Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday at the age of 41, grew up attending Boys & Girls clubs. After Bryant established himself as an NBA superstar, he became one of the organization’s biggest supporters, taking time to stop by clubs across the country. The club’s national office, Jones noted, constantly sent out “a ton of pictures” featuring Bryant popping in at clubs in the Los Angeles metro area.
The significance of Bryant’s $15,000 donation, Jones said, can’t be overstated. The average donation for the Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan ranges from $200 to $500. A donation totaling $1,000 is considered “major” in nature.
“That $15,000,” Jones said, “made a huge impact in our local club.”
It meant that last summer, 20 kids attended the club’s summer program free of cost. The nine-week summer program runs from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The family fee is $80.
The math: Twenty kids at $80 per week = $14,400, covered by Kobe & Vanessa Bryant’s foundation.
“His gift went to a good cause,” Jones said.
He also noted that Bryant’s foundation wasn’t the only entity to contribute to Winter’s memorial fund.
The Chicago Bulls gave “a little more than $1,000.” The Lakers donated $1,000. And other NBA coaches, as well as some of Winter’s former K-State players, chipped in, too. In sum, the memorial fund in Winter's name totaled $18,700.
"I thought to myself, 'If we get a few hundred (dollars in Winter's name), what a cool thing that would be," Jones said. "I never thought or expected to see $18,700."
Jones still isn’t exactly sure why Winter picked the Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan. Winter never came by the club — which started 25 years ago — during his lifetime, as he was traveling across the country during his NBA coaching career.
“But we know he spent a lot of time coaching club kids in the NBA,” said Jones, noting Bryant was among them. “So that’s one of the reasons why we think he chose us. Either that, or just a passion for youth and youth development programs in general. We’re really unsure of that. It was a blessing to be listed but also a big surprise to us, too.”
The news of Bryant’s death hit the club hard — both Jones and the children who stopped by Monday.
“We had a group of kids ask if we could mail them something for the family, just to say thank you again and to keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” Jones said. “So we’ll do something like that.”
Above all, Jones said the sizable donation showed the level of respect Bryant had for Winter.
“That was meaningful,” he said. “You could tell how much Kobe looked up to Tex and how he attributed a lot of his success to him.”