Remembering Kobe, The Player & The Man

Two days removed, and it still feels like it’s a nightmare.

Like a terrible dream that we know is a dream and yet no matter how hard we try to wake ourselves from it, we can’t do a damn thing about it. No matter how many tears we shed, no matter how many times we try to refresh our Twitter feeds hoping it isn’t real, Kobe will no longer be here.

Kobe Bryant, former Los Angeles Laker, died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash outside of Calabasas, Calif. The news was first reported by TMZ Sports and later confirmed by multiple outlets, including ESPN’s Senior NBA Reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. Kobe’s 13-year old daughter Gianna Bryant, often referred to as GiGi, and seven others also died in the crash.

Bryant was a five-time NBA Champion and two-time Finals MVP and finished fourth in the league in all-time points scored. He was recently passed for third by LeBron James Saturday night.

Kobe’s Tenacity Defined his Greatness on the Court

Bryant began his basketball greatness in high school in the Philadelphia area and was a superstar even in high school. His talent was so great he decided to forgo his college career and jump straight to the pros.

The Charlotte Hornets selected him in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was traded to the Lakers later that night for Vlade Divac. Kobe was the young gun on a roster of aging veterans and was hazed at every turn, but it never dampened his drive, his desire to win at all costs.

Bryant won his first championship in 2000 and proceeded to win the next two, helping the Lakers to three-peat, and make them the last team to do it.

Nothing stopped him from greatness. Not Shaquille O’Neal leaving the Lakers, not Phil Jackson saying he was “uncoachable”, not even former teammates accusing him of being an arrogant and selfish teammate. Kobe had himself and his “Mamba Mentality” and that was all he needed.

The nickname “Black Mamba” was earned and he was exactly what it implied, a master assassin who could strike with blazing speed and leave multiple defenders in his wake. His confidence had only a few rivals, as he was one of the few players in the NBA who, in his prime, could find a shot for himself, even if he had four defenders on him at once.

It was that drive that helped him score 60-plus points on his final game at Staples Center, the arena that will forever be remembered as the House that Kobe Built. It’s that drive that pushed him to finish taking free throws after tearing his Achilles tendon, simply because he didn’t want to be taken out of the game. It is that drive that made him more than just a basketball icon, but a global icon.

Kobe Transcended Basketball

For many of us, not just in North Carolina or the States, but around the world, when you say “Kobe”, everyone knows who you are talking about, and the mentality that comes with it. The news of his passing felt so much more than just a former player passing away, It feels the same way it did when the news of John Lennon being gunned down hit us, it feels the same way of hearing of Kurt Cobain’s suicide hit us.

During the 2020 Grammy Awards, which took place in Staples Center, the ceremony opened with a tribute to Kobe with Alicia Keys and Boys 2 Men performing a tribute song in his honor. Lizzo refused to speak to the media during red carpet interviews because of how distraught she was at the news.

Kobe is the first major sports athlete, at least of my lifetime, to which his passing has devastated anyone who got to watch him play. The past two days included many people from the world of sports and entertainment ranging from Michael Wilbon of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption to Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family, recounting the interactions they had with the former Laker.

Kobe Strove for Excellence, Despite Any Personality Flaws

None of us are perfect human beings. Even I, sitting here with tears in my eyes writing this column, am far from it, but Kobe in post-retirement life showed us its capable for us to strive to be perfect, despite our flaws.

As someone who spent their whole life growing up with High-Functioning Autism, I had a profound respect for Kobe, sitting there and watching him reach the mountain top no matter the odds, even though one of those championships came against the team I and my mom grew up rooting for, the Boston Celtics.

Kobe showed us its possible to learn from our mistakes. Even following his settlement in a sexual assault civil suit, Kobe was able to become a phenomenal role model for his daughters, one of whom was anticipated to carrying on his basketball legacy, but sadly won’t be able to.

Kobe was famous for not letting anyone in, for walking in and out of Staples Center without an entourage so he could solely focus on basketball and nothing else. Once Kobe retired, more and more people who had viewed him as an adversary in the pros came to view him as a friend and a true ambassador for the game.

It seems unfair that we lost someone, who was so full of life and had so much more life to live and give, in such a horrific way; like we were cheated somehow. But Kobe lived his life the same way he played basketball like it was the last time he was going to be able to do it.

I don’t have the best words to end any of this so I’ll just paraphrase what Jay Williams said in response to Kobe’s passing: Cherish those you care about because time is precious and we don’t get a lot of it.