When the news first broke, I really thought it was another one of those death hoaxes that plague social media from time to time. Then I learned that the story was first published in tabloid magazines; even so, they could just be looking for a sensational headline. It couldn’t be true. Even if it were, I half expected the “Black Mamba” to come out on his Twitter to say “I’m all right everyone!” so we could all breathe a sigh of relief. So I tried going back to work, reading my assignments while the back of my mind replayed the breaking news report about a helicopter crash involving Kobe Bryant.
For some, the death of a sports millionaire in a time of unprecedented political division and wealth inequality seems like a small matter in the grand scheme of things. However, for this Angeleno, born and raised, the death of Kobe Bryant struck me with grief that I still feel as I write this.
After reading the many confirmed reports of his death, I still refused to believe such a larger-than-life figure could be gone so quickly. Less than 24 hours ago, he was on Twitter congratulating Lebron James for passing him on the NBA all-time scoring list. (Twitter, @KobeBryant, 01.25.2020) It’s a cliche to say that we just saw, just heard, just spoke to a person who passed away. But that is exactly what millions of fans, and of course, his family, experienced.
We have another reminder of how a life can be lost when we least expect it. It pains me to refer to him in the past tense.
For me and my fellow Angelenos, Kobe was more than just a sports star. He was an icon. A living legend. He was the embodiment of work ethic, determination and willingness to win, each time he stepped onto a basketball court. He was a student of the game, known to make 1,000 jump shots working out alone, after practice. Yes, 1,000.
Laker fans watched him grow from a high school basketball player who couldn’t win a roster spot from Eddie Jones to the MVP caliber Hall of Famer we now know. Kobe was Los Angeles, and the city embraced him just as he embraced his passion.
I think some members of the Spanish community, myself among them, identified with Kobe. We saw ourselves through him in his hard work, in the passion that took him to great heights.. He was a role model for those of us who may not have had many in our lives. He epitomized greatness in everything he applied himself to. Kobe was fluent in three languages, took tap dancing lessons to strengthen his ankles, and even read the entire NBA referee rulebook just to gain a competitive edge. While other superstars faded away in retirement, Kobe was just getting started: he planned to coach the next generation of potential stars.
He built the Mamba Academy in Newbury Park, California to teach children the skills needed to change their lives both on and off the court. ”Our youth tends to get the short end of the stick in terms of the investment that’s put into them when I think it should be the opposite because they are our future,” said Kobe on the Academy. His daughters inspired the project.
“I want to make sure that they’re growing up in a world better than the one we are currently living in,” he shared.
I remember when the Lakers defeated their rivals, the Boston Celtics, in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, and the jubilation and sense of unity the championship brought to Los Angeles. Anywhere you went, Laker flags blew in the breeze, horns honked in front of Staples Center, and for a brief moment, all worries and troubles vanished. We celebrated as one community. You could high five a random guy on the street because you both knew what had just happened; we were watching the Michael Jordan of our era.
Kobe actually had a poor shooting performance that night. Yet I can still remember his stat line from that night, which included 15 rebounds. Kobe was known as a selfish player, but he constantly drew in the defense that gave the team a better chance to score. It was his pass to Ron Artest in the 4th quarter that night that would be crucial for the eventual win. Yes, Kobe passed the ball.
I will never forget being at the parade celebration in 2010, holding up a customized license plate that read #8KOBE with my sister. We caught the attention of the man himself, who pointed his finger right at us and gave us a shout out on the microphone.
I will never forget recording his last game in a Laker uniform. After a career of playing through broken pinky fingers, shooting and making free throws with a torn Achilles tendon, and suffering through bursitis and countless knee and shoulder injuries, Kobe Bryant scored 60 points against the Utah Jazz, cementing his status as one of the game’s most legendary scorers of all time. I remember shouting, “Come on, one more time Kobe” as he shot the last game winner of his career to give the Lakers another last minute lead.
His finale capped a career of twenty years with one team, five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, and lifelong memories for all his fans.
Most importantly, Kobe has left me the “Mamba mentality.” This was his philosophy about being better than you were yesterday, to extend and further “greatness’ in your own life and in anything you do.
I want to share a quote from Kobe Bryant that I hope will inspire you just as it has inspired me in my life. Rest in peace Kobe Bean Bryant.
“Everything negative—pressure, challenges—is all an opportunity to rise.”