It’s a strange feeling to know that a person you never met can make you feel so many things or move you to tears. Yet that’s where many people find themselves as they grieve the loss of NBA great Kobe Bryant.
Kobe was the perfect villain and then the perfect hero for a young boy growing up with a love of basketball. It became impossible not to respect his work ethic. His ferocious and unrivaled competitiveness. The poetic nature with which he played.
In one of his final interviews as a player, Bryant said he wanted people to remember that he was born talented but worked as if he had no talent. Kobe, the man for whom one name was enough, seemed invincible.
Kobe’s Mamba Mentality Drove Him to Greatness
Perhaps our sadness comes from losing someone known for accomplishing so much on the basketball court: the five championships, two finals MVPs, two Olympic gold medals, 18 All-Star appearances, 2008 MVP award, 12-time NBA All-Defensive Team, 11-time first team All-NBA, 81-point game, 60-point final game, fourth on the all-time scoring list, and so much more.
Or perhaps our sadness comes selfishly from not getting to see what he would accomplish with his next 41 years. We saw him grow from a 17-year-old kid to a 41-year-old husband and father of four girls, finally diving full force into his second act and looking happier than he had ever been.
He was attacking each day with the same discipline, dedication, and tenacity that led to regular 3 a.m. workouts and has so famously been coined the “Mamba Mentality.” It’s the type of mentality so many try to emulate, but only the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Tom Brady can truly understand and possess. Yet Kobe was perhaps the only one to attack his post-playing career with that same drive.
His curiosity and constant thirst for knowledge excited onlookers at what was to come in his life. Kobe didn’t have formal schooling after high school, but he was more educated than most could ever hope to be. He sought out icons such as Oprah, Steve Jobs, and J.K. Rowling to learn from. He spoke several languages and had many successful business ventures outside sports.
Kobe was brilliant, and he had an unquenchable thirst to learn and improve every single day. He was taking the Mamba mentality that allowed him to get two different jersey numbers retired by the Lakers and pouring it into being a father, husband, coach, innovator, creator, and mentor.
Kobe Is an Inspiration to Countless Children and Athletes
Kobe was so passionate about helping others and passing on all of his knowledge, not only his basketball know-how. Kobe started the Mamba Sports Academy as a way of passing that knowledge on to children, saying, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.”
This is perhaps no better evidenced than by the tears on players’ faces this week, some of whom weren’t even born when Kobe started playing; the outpouring of support from across the sports world, not only basketball players; and the outpouring of support from people across the world in general, not only athletes.
He was even an inspiration to me. After suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2017, then a second one on my other leg in 2019, the first thing I did was turn to Kobe. I read anything I could find about how he handled his injury — his process, his mindset, what he did for rehab, and how hard he worked to get back to form. I obviously wasn’t rehabbing for a return to the NBA, but as a lifelong basketball fan, he was my first thought when I found out what my injury was, and he inspired me to tackle the challenge in front of me.
In his life off the court, Kobe invested in his creative outlet and storytelling. He had already published multiple children’s books and had intended to write several more. It was through storytelling that he hoped to positively affect children — a way to drive home the message of perseverance and hard work so kids could hear it from another voice besides their parents.
He won an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film” for “Dear Basketball,” a love letter to the game of basketball that Kobe wrote and narrated. Some people spend their entire lives in the film industry, never to achieve something so incredible. Kobe did it within two years of retiring from play.
Kobe and Gianna Are Gone Far Too Soon
While the Oscar was perhaps the professional accomplishment that made him proudest, nothing lit him up like his daughters. Whether on appearances with Jimmy Kimmel or doing a podcast interview, anytime Kobe talked about his family, he lit up. He took such joy in coaching his daughter Gianna, who also passed away in the crash, and sharing his love of basketball with her.
A recent interview even shed light on their mutual love for the sport and how she got him back to watching games again after his retirement. There is also this beautiful clip of the two of them sitting courtside discussing the game. With Gianna, Kobe was also a fierce advocate for the women’s game, the effects of which stretched far beyond just his support or game attendance.
To this day, my dad can tell you about New Year’s Day 1973, when he got up early and went to pick up a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at 7 a.m. It was then he saw the news that Roberto Clemente had died. I never planned on remembering where I was or what I was doing Jan. 26, 2020.
Kobe, you were gone far too soon. Gianna was gone far too soon. All the passengers on the helicopter were gone far too soon.
Thank you for what you did for basketball. You were an icon of the game, but your legacy was destined to be so much more than just basketball. We’ll never get to see the full extent of that legacy or of the lives you were going to touch, and that is a loss for all of us.
Although Kobe is no longer here, you don’t have to look very far to see him. He lives on in the Mamba mentality. It’s inside the young stars of the NBA and the 13-year-old girl on her middle-school basketball team. It’s inside you, and it’s inside me. Being the source of that inspiration for the next generation is how Kobe wanted to be remembered, and he can rest easy knowing the Mamba mentality burns stronger than ever.