Yesterday the world was taken by shock when the tragic news of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gigi, passed away in a helicopter crash, along with 7 others. Kobe seemed like a greater than life individual that was going to be around basketball and media for years to come. We all know life isn’t fair and no one is immortal, but it just didn’t seem like it was supposed to end this way for one of the greatest athletes we have ever seen. He hadn’t even given his hall of fame speech yet.
It’s crazy to think that someone you have never met before could have such a great impact on people’s lives. You hear people say that certain music really helped them get through rough, dark times in their life. Music and people are connected by words, and artists are able to portray that through the real life experiences that they sing about. Because of that, people feel like they are connected to that artist through those experiences, because they may be facing some of the same issues themselves. The power of media and television gives us the opportunity to feel connected to others we’ve never met, and for a lot of reasons, people feel like they were connected to Kobe Bryant as more than just a sports idol. Kobe inspired many lives through basketball and being a Dad. Many people feel like they lost part of their childhood, role model, or mentor. Kobe was a lot of things to people that he never even knew about.
Growing up, Kobe Bryant was never my favorite basketball player. I was a big fan of Tracy McGrady, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, and I even had all their jerseys. I never had a Kobe jersey, but I looked up to Kobe in ways I couldn’t for the others. As opposed to my favorite players, Kobe was like an elder. Watching Kobe play basketball, I felt like I had to stop and respect what I was seeing. To me, it felt like Kobe was the standard at the top of the hierarchy chart. That HE is who you modeled your game after. You can have other favorite players, but you modeled your game, work ethic, competitiveness, and drive after him. When you stepped out on that court in practice or a game you wanted to be him.
One thing my Dad taught me that I still hold close to me today is that, “Hard work beats talent, when talent does work hard.” I think Kobe epitomized this quote up until the day he retired from basketball. Kobe was one of the best players in the league, but he trained like he wasn’t. He trained and worked like he was a bench guy just trying to get minutes. Not only I, but others saw that, and wanted to strive for that mentality as well, the “mamba mentality.” I remember watching a commercial growing up and seeing Kobe do sit ups with a 45lb plate across his stomach. That day I started doing sit ups with 25lb plate across my stomach. If Kobe did it, then I was going to too. I used to watch SportsCenter Top 10 Plays every morning before school. I cannot even recount the amount of times I saw a Kobe Bryant play, and I would go to school and think about it all day, then come home after school and go to the drive way to try and reenact the shot, dunk, or layup. I know I’m not the only one who did that, we all did.
Whether he was your favorite player or not, all of us wanted to be Kobe. We wanted to go off in a game for 81 points. We wanted to win 5 NBA Championships. We wanted to stand toe to toe with the other team’s best player and never back down. We wanted to walk to the line and shoot free throws on a torn Achilles. We wanted to play with a broken finger. He taught us toughness prevails. He taught us that in order to get to that point, you have to work hard, then even harder. He taught us that it’s not enough to just want to be better at something, but you have to go and take it yourself.
At some point for all of us, it wasn’t just for fun wadding up a ball of paper and throwing it at a trash can yelling, “KOBE.” It was because we all aspired to hit those shots. Those turn around and body parallel to the floor fadeaways. Those unconscious step backs and pull ups. The shots over the outstretched arm of the defender in your face. We all wanted to know what that was like to feel that rhythm, and even if it was just a stupid little game of throwing garbage at a trash can, we all lived those KOBE moments, even just for a bit.
All day at work I thought about what I wanted to write about Kobe, and what he meant to me. On my drive home I took a different route than usual, so I could stop and pick up a couple newspapers to save. At a stop sign, I glanced over and saw a father in his mid-40’s shooting hoops with his two sons that couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. I couldn’t help but think that because of what happened yesterday, he wanted to shoot some hoops with his boys. His boys have probably never seen a Kobe highlight, game, or really probably even realize what has happened. But at some point in that Dad’s life he had a Kobe moment and impacted him some special way, and he wanted to share that with his sons. Just like Kobe was doing with his daughter Gigi.
To all the victims of the crash, Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan, may your souls rest in peace, and may we never forget to share your stories.