Growing up as a millennial basketball fan it was easy to be reminded of his greatness on a daily basis. Often times, it was near impossible to walk through the lunchroom at school without hearing someone shout his name. Turning your head in the direction of the individual shouting this name, you’d often find either a male or female with their arm hanging in the air as if they had just shot a basket in the 2000 National Basketball Association Finals.
But instead of shooting a basketball with a name like Wilson or Spalding etched on it, they instead were usually launching an empty milk carton into a wastebasket.
While waiting for that shot to fall, it was extremely normal to hear the individual shouting “Kobe”, an homage to NBA icon Kobe Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among several people who perished in a helicopter crash located in Calabasas, California on Sunday morning. The passengers were en route to a youth basketball tournament. As of now, an investigation is being conducted and there are no further details in the matter.
The news was shocking and unexpected.
As a result, millions of Bryant’s fans along with his family members, peers, and rivals are devastated and have been left heartbroken in the wake of his tragic misfortune.
At this very moment, I’m sitting here in complete disbelief trying to find the best way to honor Bryant. Being completely honest, I’ve spent the past five hours watching ESPN’s coverage of his passing only to find myself sobbing every time one of the Los Angeles Lakers great’s highlight reels, or images with his daughter is broadcast.
Despite the fact the developments of this story are completely gut-wrenching, this is the first time in my life I’ve really been able to sit back and think about what exactly Kobe means to our generation.
As a millennial, we were instilled with the legend of Michael Jordan. Some of us were too young to understand what we were witnessing in his final days.
We grew up with Kobe Bryant. He was there, right in front of our eyes doing things in a manner that was scarily reminiscent of Jordan. Watching his game film and understanding his demeanor, the similarities between the two draw distinct parallels that we may never again see on the hardwood. He was MJ reincarnated. He was “Our MJ”.
To witness his greatness in real-time for 20 seasons, Bryant’s career is something that stuck with us from early childhood and lasted into adulthood.
As young boys and girls, we were in awe of his accomplishments. Bryant was a five-time NBA Champion, an MVP, 18-time All-Star, and tasted the sweet taste of Olympic Gold twice during his storied career. He was right there all along as we transcended into adults.
His on-court accomplishments stretch a mile long. Moments that stand out include his 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. The total was the second-highest total in a game in NBA history. Also, Kobe’s final game against the Utah Jazz saw him drop 60-points in a come-from-behind victory. That final act was the perfect sendoff for a childhood hero who impacted so many of us. His retirement ceremony saw him receive not one, but two jerseys retired to the rafters of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” has long been ushered in conversations and spoken about frequently. Pairing his incredible athletic gifts, along with his tenacity and desire to succeed in life is what makes that mentality real. He didn’t speak his accomplishments into existence but instead breathed those goals into life. Through blood, sweat, and tears. His life was everything he wanted it to become, and there were certainly more goals that lie ahead. Many we will never know.
Thinking of Kobe Bryant’s legacy and the way he impacted the world, you will find yourself in awe of a man. Yes, you will find yourself in awe of a man whose brightest shining moments came off the court.
His passion to create evolved into an ode, or essentially a love letter he wrote to the game of basketball. Through his unprecedented dedication, it evolved into a film Bryant directed that eventually garnered him an Oscar.
The thing that really stands out to me is how he began to evolve as an ambassador of the game. During his career, it seemed as if he considered most of his opponents “foes” or “enemies”. However, that seemed to change during the twilight of his career and in his retirement. He coached youth basketball on the AAU level; teaching his beautiful daughter and others the way he saw the game. Also, last summer he opened the Mamba Training Academy and invited a handful of young NBA players to a retreat where he helped each of them improve their game. He always respected the legends like Jordan and Bill Russell. Now, it seemed as if he was intent to connect with and mentor the future generations who would follow his footsteps in this game of basketball.
Most importantly, Kobe was a husband to his wife Vanessa, as well as a father of four. From what I’ve seen from afar, he took so much joy in that. Watching him on the sidelines with Gianna watching NBA and WNBA basketball games, it was hard to ignore the monumental smile that seemed to accompany him at all times. During his career, it was rarely seen. As an individual, he was so focused and intense. It is my firm belief, that the same focus and intensity carried over into his marriage and fatherhood. It would be irresponsible to think anything different.
Like his on-court achievements, this list too is likely to stretch a mile long.
Kobe Bryant was an amazing basketball player and is certainly one of the best we’ve ever seen. However, it’s necessary to understand that he was far more than that. His post-basketball life — his second-act was just starting to unfold before being abruptly cut short Sunday morning. Perhaps, we will never understand the great lengths that would become the legend of an elder Kobe Bryant. What we do know is that in his 41-years of life that Kobe was a competitor, husband, father, and friend. Kobe Bryant was a great man, whose departure from this world has come far too soon.