Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gigi died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning.
Less than four years ago, I stayed up far past midnight on the East Coast to watch what was Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game. It was a school night, and I had to wake up at 6:15 a.m. the next morning, but it didn’t matter. I needed to watch history. The only two words that I can come up with to describe that performance are mesmerizing and magical. For a 37-year-old player on his last legs, who had just undergone surgery on a torn achilles two years prior, to not only have a ridiculous final game, but score 60 points is something that none of us will see ever again.
However, what is just as special is the fact that he willed a 17-65 Lakers team to a win over the Jazz. This fully encapsulated who Kobe Bryant was and what was known as the “Mamba Mentality.” It wasn’t until that night that I had begun to fully appreciate Kobe Bryant, one of the best and most impactful basketball players that we will ever see step on a court.
Kobe Bryant was drafted into the NBA in 1996, two years before I was even born. Until I was 18 years old, I had never seen the league without Kobe. All I can think about now is all of the memories that I have associated with Kobe Bryant growing up.
If you grew up with Kobe Bryant like I did, it was completely normal and the “cool” thing to do to attempt fadeaway jumpers in pickup basketball games and yell “Kobe” while doing so. He’s on the very short list of NBA players who have had that sort of impact. Millions of kids not only around the United States, but around the globe wanted to be just like him. I’m sure almost every player in the NBA has tried to emulate some aspect of Kobe’s game, energy, and leadership, and there’s no doubt about that.
Once LeBron James entered the league in 2003 and rose to prominence, it was always Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James for who was the NBA’s best player. I cannot tell you how many hours of my life were spent debating with others regarding this topic, whether it be in my Middle School cafeteria or just hanging out with friends outside of school. If you have always been a huge basketball fan, you know this so well as you have without a doubt been a part of it.
The ironic part of all this is that I was never on the Kobe side of arguments, and I often would root against the Lakers. Of course, it was all fun and games at the time, as I was a normal middle school kid who didn’t appreciate the greatness that was going on right in front of me. As a kid, Kobe Bryant was like the villain in a movie that I wanted to see lose, but absolutely no one could take him down. That’s one of the many reasons why I respect him so much. He was just too good. Anytime the Lakers needed a bucket, you could rely on Kobe getting it.
In Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Lakers were down by 13 to the Celtics. It didn’t matter because you knew that Kobe was going to bring the Lakers all the way back, and he did. He had 23 points in the game, including 10 in the fourth quarter on his way to NBA Finals MVP and his fifth championship ring. I can confidently say that there is no other player in the history of the NBA that I would have rather had be my middle school basketball villain than Kobe Bryant.
The list of Kobe Bryant’s career accolades is long and would last pages and pages if I were to write down every single one. He was an 18-time All Star, five-time NBA Champion, and two-time NBA Finals MVP. Additionally, he made an All-NBA team 15 times, and an NBA All-Defensive team 12 times. He won one MVP award which came in 2007-2008. His 81 points in a single game are the second most in the history of the NBA. His career average of 25 points per game led him to his career total of 33,643, which is currently fourth on the all-time list.
I can continue to list out his accomplishments, but what also must be highlighted is Kobe Bryant’s life following his retirement from the NBA. He didn’t stop winning. Kobe won an Oscar for his animated short film called ‘Dear Basketball’ that was shown at the Staples Center prior to when both of his numbers, 8 and 24, were retired by the Lakers. Furthermore, this is a guy that continued to stay involved with the NBA and more importantly mentor so many young aspiring players. On Saturday night, when LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list, Kobe was one of the first to congratulate him.
In terms of Kobe’s mentorship, it’s truly inspiring to look at the relationships he had with so many young athletes. For example, Shaquille O’Neal’s son Shareef, shared personal Instagram messages he received from Kobe Bryant as recent as this morning, checking in on him to make sure he was doing well. He befriended women’s college basketball’s best player, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. He worked out with young NBA players such as Jayson Tatum.
Most importantly, Kobe Bryant was a mentor to his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who passed away in the helicopter crash with him. Gianna was an aspiring basketball player herself, and Kobe Bryant was extremely outspoken about that. Just last month, a video went viral of Kobe explaining basketball X’s and O’s to Gianna while sitting courtside at the Barclays Center.
This particular video of Kobe talking about Gianna with Jimmy Kimmel is a powerful one, and another that displays just how special their relationship was.
I would love to see the NBA continue to honor Kobe Bryant in unique and creative ways for the rest of the season. In every game on Sunday, each team has been dribbling out the first possession of the game and taking the shot clock violation, as the shot clock is 24 seconds, Kobe’s second number. Trae Young is wearing the number eight in Sunday’s game to honor Kobe Bryant as well. One idea that was thrown out on social media was one all-star team wearing 8 and the other team wearing 24. I hope this is something we see, as that would truly be a great way to honor Kobe, who was a four-time all-star game MVP himself.
To conclude this tribute piece, I want to share a Kobe Bryant quote that everyone should live by.
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”
This quote is one that can be applied to anything you do in life. You don’t have to be an athlete to have a Mamba Mentality and that’s what makes this quote special. That’s what made Kobe Bryant such a role model for people around the world.
For the rest of time, when I see a post fadeaway jumper go up, my mind will continue to jump to “Kobe” every single time. Kobe Bryant’s legacy on and off the court is one that’s immeasurable, and one that will live on forever. My prayers go out to his wife Vanessa, his family, and the families of the others who passed in this horrible tragedy. We will never forget you Kobe.