Ever since Kobe Bryant’s tragic death Sunday, he’s been embraced by Philadelphia more closely than he ever managed during his Hall of Fame NBA career.
Obituaries and remembrances referred to the basketball superstar as “Philadelphia-born.” Sports columnists detailed how alike Bryant and his tough, competitive, basketball-mad hometown were. A New York Times article was headlined, “Kobe Bryant, Philly Guy.”
So it’s somewhat jarring to find out that Bryant, who played high school basketball at suburban Lower Merion High, wasn’t a native Philadelphian at all. Despite what his birth certificate said, he was born just across the border in Montgomery County.
It’s a minor but not insignificant difference given the Lower Merion High graduate’s complicated relationship with Philadelphia and its fans. While many here adored him, others felt he disrespected the city with comments he made as a Laker. In particular, Bryant agitated the locals in 2001 when he called Los Angeles “my hometown.”
The geographical distinction of his birth came to light with the discovery of a brief Sports People item in the Aug. 24, 1978, Inquirer, the day after Bryant was born.
“A third child was born to 76er forward Joe (Jellybean) Bryant and his wife, Pam, at Lankenau Hospital.”
Founded in 1866 by John Lankenau as the German Hospital, Lankenau had been situated in North Philadelphia for nearly a century. But in 1953 it moved to the former site of Overbrook Golf Club, near City and Lancaster Avenues, in Wynnewood, Lower Merion Township.
“That property has always been in Lower Merion Township,” said Jody Kelley, the township’s secretary.
Contemporary newspaper accounts correctly placed the new hospital in Lower Merion, but Lankenau, perhaps because associating itself with the city’s rich medical history lent it prestige, used Philadelphia on its stationery.
When Bryant was born there 23 years later, Philadelphia was listed in the Lower Merion facility’s official address, According to Kelley, that section of Wynnewood then shared a 19151 Philadelphia zip code with the neighborhood across City Avenue.
As a result, for decades birth certificates issued for Lankenau-born babies cited Philadelphia as the place of birth.
Eventually, Kelley believed it was “sometime in the 1980s,” just about the time Joe Bryant brought his family back from Italy and settled in Lower Merion, the hospital got a Wynnewood zip code, 19096.