It's been over 24 hours since tragedy has struck, and I, just like millions of others across the globe, am still in disbelief.
I started following basketball when I was around 8 years old. Being born and raised in Massachusetts, I could have easily taken the road of Celtics fandom, especially since the "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen were about to win their first championship. Instead, I became a Phoenix Suns fan, who dominated the league with the run-and-gun offense. Steve Nash and the "Seven Seconds Or Less" squad was my team.
However, once thing would have been certain if I was a Suns fan or a Celtics fan: Kobe Bryant was going to destroy your team.
Throughout his playing career (until the end), I always viewed him as the villain, the assassin, because he would repeatedly crush Phoenix's dreams, as well as mine. The 2009 Western Conference Finals was a summary of that characteristic. He dominated that series, and sent the Suns packing, while then then dominated the Celtics to win his second championship in a row, and fifth in his career.
And the only thing that nine-year-old kid could do was watch in awe as Kobe tore apart our defense, and just watch as greatness was unfolding before my eyes. That, and scream at Jason Richardson to box out.
Fast forward more than ten years later, and Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and 7 other people, boarded onto a helicopter that was heading for Kobe Bryant's Mamba Academy, where he often held AAU tournaments for kids in the Los Angeles area. They didn't survive the trip. Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba, who we all thought was immortal, was in fact, mortal.
But that's Kobe! This isn't real, Kobe can't go out like this!
That's the man who put everything on the line for the Lakers for 20 seasons! That's the man who came back to shoot free throws after tearing his Achilles!
That's the man who jumped over a freaking Aston Martin in the middle of March!
Yup, that's Kobe.
Kobe Bryant was not just an amazing basketball player, but he was a worldwide icon. You didn't have to know his profession to know who he was. You could just tell by walking into a classroom, as a student would throw a paper ball in a trash can and yell "KOBE!" He had such an impact on so many players in the NBA, from the past, present, and future. This was evident yesterday with stars like Devin Booker, Trae Young, and DeMar DeRozan all showing episodes of emotion in reaction to Bryant's passing.
On the court, Kobe Bryant demanded greatness. His drive and determination to succeed everyday was truly mesmerizing. His attention to detail, his focus, his attentiveness, were all traits that made him such an extraordinary talent. No one was beating Kobe to the gym. As talented as a player that Kobe was, his hard work and amount of time dedicated to basketball was the reason he was so successful. Also, he didn't just demand greatness from himself, he demanded it from others around him as well. Kobe pushed everyone to be on the same level as him; he was the ultimate leader. He would get on you for your mistakes, but make sure to help you fix them. There's a countless amount of stories from ex-teammates of Kobe who would tell you how competitive he would be in practice, but that was just his nature. Every game was his last game, every practice was his last practice, every shot was his last shot.
For as talented as he was on the court, he was even greater off it. Sure, he may have made some mistakes in the past, but he learned from them, and eventually became a much better person in the long run. He's been a role model to his four daughters, and was definitely a role model to millions of others around the globe who idolized his moves on the hardwood. He was insanely talented off the court, as he won an Oscar award for his short film, titled "Dear Basketball", and launched his own venture capital firm as well as Kobe Inc., which was in place to invest and grow brands in the sports industry. He had multiple charities in effect, and even wrote an autobiography of his playing career. He was always on the go, always working, and never settling for anything but the best.
Then there's Gianna, or Gigi for short, who had a whole life ahead of her. She was eager to follow in her father's footsteps, as the remaining pictures of her always showed her at a basketball court or with a ball in her hand. She was dubbed the "Mambacita" which is easily one of the coolest nicknames of all-time. She was the reason Kobe fell in love with watching NBA games after retirement, as she would pick his brain with any sort of knowledge that she could pick up. She was 13. She had a whole, successful, impactful life ahead of her. Even if she didn't make it to the WNBA like many expected, you could tell that she could make a serious impact in society, even at such a young age. It's so saddening to see that much potential just get taken away in a split-second.
Among this tragedy, we also lost 7 other lives outside of the Bryant family, and all of their families are hurting just as bad as the Bryant family. As a society, we have to pray and do everything we can to help all of these families out, I can't imagine the type of pain they are going through. My heart hurts for Kobe's wife, Vanessa, as she loses both her husband and daughter in a senseless tragedy. It's even worse that she likely found this out through social media, as TMZ and other news sources leaked the news before even alerting the Bryant family, or any other family. As a member of sports media and a journalist, there's a fine line when it comes to privacy and compassion, and that line was crossed way too far. There were way too many reports flying around at once, and no family should have to panic about their loved ones the way that some families did on Sunday morning.
In every negative situation that arises in life, there has to be something that you can take away from it. In this case, Kobe's untimely death serves as a reminder to all of us that life is sometimes unfair, and that you really never know what will happen. You never know when it's going to be your last day on this planet, or if it's going to be the last time you see or talk to someone you really care about. That's why it's important to tell the people close to you that you love them, that you appreciate them, and send them gratitude and that you're thankful that they're in your life. It's important to live each day, each minute, each second of your life to the fullest and live to the best of your ability, and to enjoy what you're doing. Once that day, minute, or second passes, you'll never get that back, it's gone forever. With Kobe and Gianna passing away, it gives humanity another reason to lift each other up, and not to put each other down, as many are still figuring out how exactly to cope with such a tremendous and sudden loss. However, just like Kobe overcame injuries and other obstacles to achieve success, we can use this tragedy as fuel to carry on his legacy through the values he embodied.
In fourth grade, each student had to make a family shield with their values and beliefs, and in the middle of the crest, a quote was to be inserted. After hours of searching online, I found one quote from Bryant that really resonated with me:
"Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise."
Seeing what Bryant accomplished on the hardwood and the traits that he demonstrated is inspiring to anybody, and I was often left in awe of the way he carried himself in his strive for perfection. Sure, I'll remember the 81-point game against Toronto, his final 60-point performance against Utah, the numerous amounts of game-winners and posterizations, the fadeaways and the acrobatic layups, the five championships and 18 All-Star appearances, but I'll always remember Kobe Bryant for how he was able to climb to the pinnacle of basketball and personal greatness, and the time and effort he put into being the best version of himself. I hope that I can attack each day with the same amount of energy, resiliency, drive and determination (among other qualities) that Kobe Bryant was able to deliver to us every single day. His loss still doesn't feel real. But, we didn't lose Kobe Bryant. He's still with us, he will be with us every day, and he's installed the Mamba Mentality in all of us. So, thank you, Kobe Bean Bryant, for everything you've done for me, for basketball, for the NBA, for the world, for everyone. You, Gianna, and everyone else that lost their lives on January 26th, 2020, will be missed sincerely, but you will never be forgotten.
8 Forever. 24 Forever. Mamba Forever. Kobe Forever.