Greatness Personified: Remembering Kobe Bryantcsudhbulletin January 26, 2021 0 COMMENTS
By Jeremy Gonzalez, co-sports editor
One man. One icon. One legacy. Kobe.
From the time we witnessed him as an ascending star at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Bryant didn’t just shine. He captivated and dominated the sport of basketball.
It’s little wonder that Los Angeles, where his fire roared most intensely as a Los Angeles Laker, was in a state of collective shock yesterday after the news broke that Bryant died earlier in the day in a helicopter crash near Calabasas while traveling with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, to a basketball game. Bryant, who had four daughters, was 41 years old.
Apart from losing a family member or loved one, losing a larger-than-life public figure is one of the scariest reminders of life’s fragility, especially so when that life is lost in the tragic way Bryant’s was on Sunday.
As someone who grew up idolizing Bryant, I still can’t believe that his life ended so abruptly. How can someone whose intense focus to excel at every turn embodied the heart of a champion, someone who shined so spectacularly for so long, just be gone?
How do you make sense of it all?
The truth is: you don’t. The entire world stopped to mourn the loss of one of the mos`t iconic figures in the history of sports and left even the best sportscasters and writers speechless.
Bryant possessed star power even before he graduated high school. Electing to skip college and go straight to the NBA immediately after high school, he was selected 13th in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Later that day, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA landscape was forever changed.
At age 18, Bryant was the youngest player to appear in an NBA game. By his second season, he was already an NBA all-star. His instinct for the game drew resemblance to that of Air Greatness himself, Michael Jordan.
By his fourth season, Bryant had become an NBA champion with Shaquille O’Neal, their first of three consecutive championships. Once O’Neal left the team, Bryant turned into the most relentless scorer in the league, including one of the greatest offensive performances in sports history; his 81 points against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center Jan. 22, 2006, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points 44 years before.
Bryant won the scoring title that year as well as 2007. The next year he garnered NBA MVP honors and then carried the Lakers to NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. His ruthless drive and work ethic became known as the mamba mentality, most memorably after he tore his Achilles in April 2013–an injury that would derail him most of the next two seasons–and still came out to sink both his free throws before hobbling off the court.
The Black Mamba played three more seasons after recovering from the injury, and capped his last game with perhaps the most memorable finale to an NBA career, dropping 60 points.
Bryant retired in 2016 as an 18-time NBA all-star, five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. His trophy case also boasts an Oscar for his animated short film Dear Basketball in 2018.
He was widely expected to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year, his first year of eligibility.
Growing up in Los Angeles, and playing competitive basketball for 10 years, I literally grew up watching Bryan perform in the purple and gold. Though I never quite got there, I spent countless hours trying to mimic his famous fadeaway shot.
And although I know that I was just one of the millions with vivid memories of him on the basketball court, I feel that my connection to him was personal. It wasn’t just his phenomenal talent and his ability to so often rise to the occasion, such as his 60-point final game. It was that the person who wore that #8 and #24 jersey was an inspiration; he wasn’t just a good basketball player, he was a hero who showed me that hard work can pay off.
His determination and desire to be the best was unmatched, and his strength and perseverance lifted all of us up. That is the power of sports, for Bryant’s Mamba Mentality, of never giving up and perfecting your craft by pushing yourself to new levels every chance you get, transcended sports and can be applied to anything we encounter in life.
That was the impact he had on me and so many others who looked up to him, from the streets of South Los Angeles to across the world.
Words cannot begin to describe how special he truly was; records can’t begin to capture the impact he had on so many.
Bryant’s death, along with his daughter and seven others in that helicopter, serves as a sobering reminder that tomorrow is not guaranteed. The very next second is not guaranteed. Every breath we take is a gift and the best way we can show appreciation for that gift is striving to be the absolute best we can possibly be wherever life takes us.
For some, maybe that’s competing at the highest athletic level imaginable; for others, maybe it’s hugging our loved ones a little tighter and telling them we love them. Or maybe it’s both.
Say what you will about cherishing every moment in the aftermath of a horrific event, but its human to imagine those we love will be around in the future, human to not think about their death. Until they’re not, until they’re gone, and all that is left is agonizing pain and trying to deal with such monumental loss.
Many can acknowledge that Bryant was a flawed man that made mistakes throughout his life. You can do that while also acknowledging that he seemed to grow as a human being in his later years. The rape allegations against him were a hiccup in his career, but he applied his “Mamba Mentality” outside of basketball and strived to be the best version of himself and worked at it every single day, just like his basketball skills.
One late LA icon who also tried to be the best version of himself for others, just like Bryant, was rapper Nipsey Hussle. Both showed us that inevitable mistakes should not define who we are as people and we should continue to be better versions of ourselves.
The Kobe Bryant who made it to 41 – the one who got into that helicopter Sunday morning – was a good man, husband and father with a very pure heart.
But whether our victories are commemorated by earning a championship ring, or come from simply doing the best we know how to get from one day to the next, the real champions are those who understand that living in the moment, of being present and true to that moment, is what truly matters. Because at any given moment those moments can suddenly end.
At least that’s what I’m trying to hold onto as I’m forced to deal with the loss of someone I never met, but with who so many of my greatest memories are associated with. The Black Mamba may have dropped the ultimate mic, but it’s now up to us to carry on his legacy, to believe in ourselves and continue the tradition of yelling “Kobe!” whenever we shoot a paper ball into a trash can.
May Kobe, Gianna, and the seven other souls whose lives ended so terribly soon, rest in peace.