Kobe. Mamba. Bean. One of the classiest, most hardworking and talented individuals in the history of sports, Kobe Bryant defined work ethic, whether it be through his 4 a.m. workouts, his relentless desire to continue to improve or his unimpressed and unsatisfied nature with anything but winning. This translated directly into his game, as he is known almost unanimously, as the best offensive player in the history of the NBA. This succeed-at-all-costs mentality allowed Bryant to build a hefty resume, winning five championships to go along with two Finals MVP awards, one regular season MVP award, 18 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA First Team inductions and ending up as number four on the all-time scoring list.
I don’t want to make this article all about his game and accomplishments on the court. Bryant wouldn’t have wanted that. He is quoted as saying, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to,” and he did just that with people all across the globe.
Bryant was a loving father, husband and teammate. He was married to his wife, Vanessa, for 18 years and together they had four children. Tragically, their 13 year old daughter Gianna, “GiGi,” was also on board the helicopter, which crashed early Jan. 26 on the way to Mamba Sports Academy for two basketball games, taking the lives of seven others. Bryant always spoke highly of his daughter; he is quoted as saying she was even better than him when he was her age, that she would continue his legacy, how he didn’t need a son to do it and how the family name was in good hands because of her. I find it an ironic, yet beautiful, tragedy that their last moments were together, on their way to do something they both loved so profusely. Byrant loved coaching GiGi and GiGi loved learning from him.
The impact Bryant has had on current players in the NBA has been seen in dramatic fashion over the last couple of days. Young star Luka Doncic honored all nine victims of the crash by writing their names on his “Kobe” basketball shoes in their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 27. Teams have been starting off their games by running out the 24 second shot clock, an obvious tribute to the legacy of #24, Byrant’s jersey number. Emotions have been pouring out of many players that many fans called for a delay of games on that Sunday evening. LeBron James, who had just passed Bryant in scoring that Saturday, was seen on video footage crying and giving hugs to those in the Lakers organization. To speak to Byrant’s character, his final tweet was a tribute to James, tweeting,”Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33,644,” a reference to LeBron hitting 33,644 career points. Put simply, Bryant inspired a new generation of players and had an effect on almost every single player in the NBA.
Byrant got me into basketball; my earliest memory of sports is watching the 2010 NBA Finals and seeing Mamba absolutely dog the Celtics. Bryant was the player that truly created my passion for sports and for that, I am forever indebted to him. Rest in peace, Mamba. Rest in peace Gigi. And rest in peace to the victims from the Altobelli, Mauser and Chester families, as they should not be overlooked in this time of grief. Kobe Bryant, thank you for helping me find my passion. Your name will always live on.
Photo: F. Kerney