A husband. A father. A friend. A role model. A mentor. A human being. A legend.
There are so many titles you could give Kobe Bryant, those are just some of the handful of examples. There’s a reason I never even mentioned him being an athlete or a basketball player. While we as a society seemingly forget at times, professional athletes are human beings just like the rest of us. Life is so fragile and we should never take it for granted. Sunday was one of those moments where we, unfortunately, were reminded of that.
Professional athletes, especially superstars, seem invincible to many of us. Sunday afternoon we learned the hard way that no one in this thing we call life is truly invincible. Kobe, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna (GiGi), passed away when Bryant’s private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, with the group on their way to a travel basketball game.
When I first saw the news, I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I didn’t believe it, to be honest. ‘No, not Kobe Bryant. That can’t be true. There’s no way.’ Those were just some of the many thoughts that first went through my head as I continued to believe that the initial TMZ report was false. Then, I shared it in our WFNY Slack group and, like me, none of us believed it. We were hoping it wasn’t true, yet, it was.
It was a moment that seemed to make the world stop for a minute. Every tweet was about Kobe. Every post on Instagram was about Kobe. No matter what channel you switched to on your television that was live, it seemed to be about Kobe. It all showed just how much he meant to not only this country but this world as a whole. I, personally, don’t think I’ve ever been this shook about a professional athlete passing away.
Whether you like sports or not, there’s a good chance you knew who Kobe was. He was a true ambassador for the game and used basketball as an avenue to make the world a better place. Whether you loved Kobe or rooted against him as a basketball player, it’s very likely that you still respected him. There aren’t many people in this world who can be recognized by just their first name. Kobe is one of those people. The former Los Angeles Laker not only meant so much to the NBA and the game of basketball as a whole, but he was a worldwide icon. One that people across the world, no matter their gender, race, or ethnicity.
NFL players honored Kobe during celebrations throughout the Pro Bowl. Neymar, one of the world’s best soccer plays, honored Kobe after scoring a goal. Both of these happened within hours of the news surfacing.
One of the craziest parts of all of this is the timing. Saturday night, LeBron James passed Kobe for the No. 3 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It just so happened to be in Philadelphia, the city where Kobe grew up. Talk about everything coming full circle.
On Sunday, shortly after the devastating news of Kobe’s passing, NBA arenas and teams from across the country honored one of the greatest players to ever dribble a basketball, many of which were in cool ways that gave me chills and goosebumps.
Remarkable moment to start the Raptors-Spurs game. pic.twitter.com/thmt9ZU1Ra
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 26, 2020
This was the pregame moment of silence from the AT&T Center with both teams dribbling out the shot clock to begin the game. Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan among the many crying: pic.twitter.com/d0MWPobPMf
— Evan Closky (@EvanClosky) January 26, 2020
ESPN anchor and former Duke and NBA point guard took to SportsCenter and said it all so perfectly.
Hug someone you love today.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 26, 2020
Kobe wasn’t just a mentor and role model to so many basketball players, and even NBA players past and present, but especially to his four daughters. In fact, GiGi, seemed to be the main reason he got back into watching the NBA after he retired. She loved basketball and Kobe did his best to make sure she learned the game and became the best player and person she could possibly be.
Kobe said he barely watched NBA in retirement until his daughter Gigi started asking to… then they would watch every night while Kobe broke down film for her… this is heartbreaking. https://t.co/wyQ4FVsgc2
— Jacob Shields (@_jacobshields) January 26, 2020
This video of Kobe talking about his daughter Gianna has me in tears pic.twitter.com/w4hm96tXBQ
— nina | sofia wylie enthusist! (@softlybassett) January 26, 2020
Sitting courtside with his daughter, GiGi, Kobe no longer seemed like a fierce competitor. Instead, he was at peace. He was a dad; a dad that was teaching his daughter the ins-and-outs, and the tips and tricks of the game of basketball. A father that wanted his daughter to be the best basketball player she could possibly be while doing everything he can to make that happen. Sitting courtside, he was a father and a mentor, one that he will always be remembered for.
Kobe left this world, but his impact on both the NBA and girls basketball (specifically the WNBA) will never be forgotten. Whether it was during his playing days or after he hung it up, the five-time NBA champion wanted to make his favorite sport better both now and the future, continuing to transcend the game even after he retired. There wasn’t another NBA player that supported the WNBA more by making it as popular as it could possibly be. Whether it was attending games, watching them on television, or just coaching the next generation of girls that could possibly be the next great WNBA players, Kobe continued to do what he loved: supporting his daughters and transcending the game of basketball. In fact, he passed away on the way to doing what he loved: Coaching one of his daughter’s basketball teams. Just like he was driven to be the best basketball player he could possibly be, he was also driven to make the game better for the long run, a legacy that will live on forever. A person’s legacy will always be carried on by the people they loved and the lives they touched. If Kobe needed any reassurance of that, the response to his death demonstrates his legacy will never die.
He wasn’t perfect. None of us are. Kobe even admitted that. The competitor just wanted to be the best possible version of himself both on and off the court and did everything possible in order to do so. It was the Mamba Mentality. Kobe was the reason many of us started to love the game, especially if you grew up during his prime as a Laker. There’s a reason both the No. 8 and No. 24 are retired by the Lakers and hang in the rafters of the Staples Center.1 It was because he meant so much, both to the purple and gold and to the game of basketball.
So, next time you throw something in the garbage can or shoot a basketball, say “Kobe” even louder than you ever did. That’s just one small way you can carry on his legacy.
If you spent time on social media at any point after the news broke on Sunday, it was clear that Kobe touched so many people’s lives, 99.9% of which had never talked to or even met the man that many call the Black Mamba. That’s truly what shows the type of person and player Kobe was.
This wasn’t the way this story was supposed to end. Kobe’s golden years playing the game were over, but he still had so much life to live and things, especially in basketball, to change. He was supposed to see his statue outside the Staples Center one day, not be a reason fans convene outside the Staples Center in celebration and remembrance of a life and one of the greatest to ever play the game that is now gone way too soon. He was supposed to give a speech when he was inevitably inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, not be remembered by his family and fans when that day happens. He was supposed to continue to coach his daughters both in life and in basketball, hopefully seeing GiGi (and even his other daughters) play the game he loved at the highest level.
Looking back, some of the things Kobe has said over the years are gut-wrenching now that we know that he would only live to be 41.
Kobe Bryant, 2008: "Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged.
"You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling. pic.twitter.com/gy7iQnewAJ
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) January 26, 2020
During a conversation in 2016, Kobe Bryant discussed his relationship with death.
"You can't have life without death. You can't have light without dark." pic.twitter.com/DUSVK4xj9N
— The Ringer (@ringer) January 26, 2020
In all honesty, it’s just weird that I am writing this and reading so many memoirs about Kobe, who I grew up watching dominate on the hardwood, many times of which I stayed up late considering the late-night, 10 (or even 10:30) p.m. ET start times on the east coast. It was because he was so great and so fun to watch. The 41-year-old still had plenty of life ahead of him.
While we as fans and sports anchors alike love debating about greatness and who the greatest basketball player in the history of the game is, Sunday should be a reminder that instead of debating it all, just enjoy it and don’t take it for granted. Instead of debating if LeBron is the greatest ever, just enjoy watching No. 23 before it’s too late. The greatest athletes to ever play the game are all great in their own way; one thing they have in common is that the majority of them will leave a legacy that goes far beyond the game they love to play. Don’t ever forget that.
Thank you for all you did for the game of basketball, Kobe. You may no longer be here, but your legacy will live on forever.
Dear Kobe: pic.twitter.com/Vy3o4nmAi2
— ESPN (@espn) January 26, 2020
Even after he retired, Kobe continued his greatness, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, Dear Basketball. He was the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and the first former professional athlete to win an Oscar in any category. Kobe rarely ever failed at anything he did, whether it was as a father, a basketball player, or even as a director. His Mamba-mentality never allowed him to fail.
While Kobe is obviously the most famous person involved in the accident, my thoughts and prayers go out to all nine people that passed away, their families, and everyone else involved. May all of the innocent lives that were lost rest in peace.
There are moments and events throughout life in which you will always remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard/saw the news. Moments that immediately put life in perspective. Sunday afternoon was one of those moments. I never met or even talked to Kobe, but like many others across the world, he still had an effect on so many of us. For that, he will be missed. The NBA and basketball world as a whole will never be the same. Thanks for being you, Kobe, and unfortunately, for seemingly the final time, Mamba Out.
Rest In Paradise, Kobe Bryant. You’ll be missed, but your lasting legacy will live on forever. Mamba Forever.
The veteran painter/graffiti artist @JulesMuck (muckrock on IG) created this stunning Kobe/GiGi piece on Sunday at Pickford Market in mid-city LA. Just wow.
(via muckrock and Pickford Market on IG) pic.twitter.com/LEabFE2ZJL
— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) January 27, 2020