Two nights ago, I was having a discussion with my father about sports and of course the great athletes that draw us to our colors. As he shared his love for Pele and Muhammad Alli I in turn shared mine for Kobe Bryant. While my father is not an avid basketball follower as I am he knows who Kobe Bryant is.
I shared with him how Kobe was the type of player that even though he truly stepped away from the game, meaning he didn’t show up to many Lakers’s games as some of us would’ve expected him to do, when he did it wasn’t just a former player showing up, but THE one player coming out to cheer along with the fans who not long ago adored him just as much, or perhaps more than those playing that night.
Kobe was the kind of player that when he showed up players from all over the NBA league took a moment to stop in the middle of the game to say hi which attests to the importance he has in the NBA and basketball around the world.
We also discussed how upon his retiring Kobe made it a point to dedicate his time to his family as he said it was their time/turn after the sacrifice he often referred to when speaking of them “You have to have an understanding circle of family and friends” Kobe Bryant. The Mamba Mentality. How I Play.”
It wasn’t even a week ago that I wrote a piece about the identity sports and athletes have upon individual lives. I challenged the myth of having to be from one place in order to follow a team or what wearing certain colors meant to a sports fan.
With that said, it’s been a while since I’ve been wanting to write a piece about my favorite athlete and hero Kobe Bryant and how he is part of and has influenced my life. As I type these words I regret that it took me this long. And while I wanted it to be perfect as I look back I realize how silly that was. The time to do it was yesterday, last week, months ago, 20 years back.
And it is with great sorrow I instead find myself typing while the news of his death play for the 6th hour in my house. So here it is, the “goodbye” piece I cannot help to feel is about the loss of the greatest man in basketball and a very important person I have admired for the past two decades of my life.
My personal experience and story as a Kobe Bryant fan and my love for basketball. A story that reflects how his game forever changed how basketball was played as he inspired billions of people around the globe, including me.
Growing up I was never the kind that ran off to a dance or was boy crazy. Makeup or what type of shoes I would wear wasn’t necessarily on top of my priorities. And although I wasn’t what some would call a tomboy I was very much into basketball even if it looked weird to those around me.
My devotion to the gold and purple was born in 1985. When as a young girl in Mexico City I sat in front of a TV my father had just bought and was setting up. As he did that he picked a random channel to check signal. I remember sitting there in criss cross position. I was immediately drawn to the game Magic Johnson played that night. Little did I know at that moment that I had discovered one of the most important things that would define me as I grew up. They called it “basketball” and I was in love from that point on and for the rest of my life without a doubt.
As a Lakers’ fan the game was exciting to watch. But what I did not know was that the year of 1996 would bring even more to our team as the Lakers announced a recent high school graduate from Lower Merion High School named Kobe Bryant had been traded in Lakers’ ranks.
We were all excited and wondering what exactly bringing a 17-year-old kid would do to our team. As loyal fans we trusted the franchise’s decision and welcomed him with open arms. And while most had a high level of skepticism, we stood behind that kid without any doubts.
The question of how this kid would fit was real, the skepticism high. Skeptics and fans alike would soon witness the evolution of one the greatest player the NBA had ever had. After all Kobe arrived just in time to join the greatest name in the NBA Michael Jordan and others alike.
For those of us who have been watching basketball for decades we know what that means. That era was one of a kind. Body to body. Strength vs strength. The best of the best. The game was so intense it was impossible to not get drawn and forget about anything and everything else.
I watched all the games I could even if it meant skipping church or going into the cafeteria at work to catch as much as I could at the time.
I watched almost all of his games! Rejoiced in the wins, and felt the pain of the injuries and of course cried over the losses as well. As his game developed, which by the way it didn’t take too long for that. The skepticism faded allowing him to concentrate even more and do what he was best at, a basketball player who played with his heart.
And as a basketball fan or even sports enthusiast we all knew he was the one to watch. Everyone talked about him. Love or hate him, he was the name in the headlines. We all knew he was the one to watch a fan or not it was impossible to not show up if he was playing in your town.
As his game evolved, the comparisons to the great Michael Jordan started to pour in. The haters kept on saying “no way, not a chance he will ever measure up”. While those of us who loved him knew that in every game he would have us on the edge in awe as not only he helped get the Lakers to the top, but he himself became the one and only one in the league to be watching at all times something the great Michael Jordan himself admitted to with time.
To add onto the great player he was the Lakers brought Phil Jackson to coach. The anticipation was high! We all knew something crazy was about to unfold, and we were right! The combination of the excellence in Jackson as coach and Kobe’s endless perfectionist drive got the Lakers to win five NBA Championships and fired up the Lakers and NBA base across the world day and night.
The wins did not come easy to him per say. Not easy by the fact that a perfectionist with his game not only during the season but off season as well. As with anything when you work that hard your body, mind, emotions and inner circle feel the impact.
While we can all agree that the man had skill, we all know it was his dedication that made him the best. There have been many great players in this lifetime, but I can think of only one who had the discipline Kobe had, and I am sure we all agree to who that might be, and know who I am talking about.
In his book Kobe Bryant: Mamba Mentality How I Play he talked about the strict regimes he would put himself through. Mentally, physically and emotionally. It is that discipline that we all know is behind the smart and high quality of game he had:
“When you’re younger, you work on explosive things and as you get older your focus shifts to preventative measures. That’s all for the course. The only aspect that can’t change, though, is that obsession. You have to enter every activity every single time, with a want and need to do it to the best of your ability.”
That obsession he speaks of is what we did not know about, and without realizing it often witnessed as he played through pain or got injured as he gave us his best. If you can understand that, you will then be able to see that the many times he seemingly selfishly did not make a pass and “hogged” the ball wasn’t self-serving but, because he knew that he in fact was the best shot the Lakers had to get the win.
When Kobe Bryant retired it brought tears to my eyes. For the cynics around me they thought it was overboard. But to me it was a very sad moment to know that my idol, my hero in basketball was retiring and I would never have the chance to chant his name when he was on the basketball court.
The loss felt like a big one to say the least. To me Kobe did not represent basketball alone, he was something much more that to date I cannot describe without tearing up. He was the symbol of a dream. A dream that required all of who he was. And if there is one thing I’ve learned about sports for a few years now is that it all starts with a dream. A dream just like the ones you and I have.
Therefore, watching him play was inspiring at so many levels, I just wouldn’t have enough space to describe them all. HIs game transcended all we had ever experienced before on and off the basketball court.
Upon his retirement he left a major void. His farewell tour was exciting and sad alike. I was fortunate enough to attend and watch him make his last winning shots. I knew the significance of what I was watching because of how much value he brought to the game, but above all because I knew it was the last time I would watch him play.
Post retirement not many of us knew what to expect from basketball or Kobe himself. Basketball of course continued under the shadows of his name while at the same time it was opening the doors for others to build a name of their own.
And as a retired player Kobe sort of made it a point to step into the sidelines and be less visible in the basketball scene. But make no mistake he emerged in new ways and once more succeeding again.
Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba made his family life a priority. He mentored NBA players as well. He became an investor in the technology and entertainment industry amongst others and as the over-achiever he was, he won an Oscar for his very own short film called “Dear Basketball”. A story that for the first time gave us a glimpse as to what basketball meant to him. We all knew he was a competitive man, but very few realized his game was a story about love, his love for basketball. A story we were all able to witness every single time he played for us.
Kobe’s work continued to grow, in different ways. But perhaps one of the most significant things we all got to see was how he played the father role. Upon retirement Kobe made his family the priority in his life.
In 2019, Kobe and his wife Vanessa welcomed their fourth child Capri. Kobe was the proud father of four girls! Natalia Diamante, 17, Gianna Maria-Onore 13, Bianka Bella, 3, and Capri Kobe, 7 months.
We all got to see him start as father day after day. He often spoke of his time with his daughters and how important it was for him to teach them the discipline of hard work and loving what you do “When I get up in the morning [to exercise], my daughter goes with me. She goes with me before school and it becomes a daddy-daughter thing. Through that process, she understands the value of hard work.”
In addition to his work discipline Kobe’s love for basketball had certainly touched his daughters as well. We often saw Kobe and his daughter Gianna at NBA games, and even an Oregon Ducks’ game. A game where Kobe joined the Oregon Ducks’ Girls team and gave them their very own locker room pep talk. It is known that Gianna had the desire to become a Ducks’ and that their own star Sabrina Lonescu was a mentee to the great basketball star.
As I continue to type I realize I am running out of space and time. Space because there is so much to share that I am not sure there is enough space in the cyber world to sustain all the things I have to write. Time, because the more I write, the more I realize how much we have all lost by his passing and that of his beautiful daughter Gianna who was just starting her very own life.
And as I’ve spent the last seven hours watching the news, reading the many statements his peers and the world have shared with the rest of us, I have to admit, I am still at a loss. It wasn’t 24 hours ago just yet that we heard from Kobe himself as he congratulated James LeBron for setting his own record in the NBA.
Something I admire and spoke about with my husband at the end of the night, “Kobe congratulates LeBron. You simply cannot expect any less. He is a gentleman and honorable man on and off the court.”
And indeed, a gentleman he was. A man with a love for basketball that not many understand. A man that gave us his best for the majority of his life years and never stopped no matter what. A man who envisioned a world where we would all feel as inspired as he had and work hard for our dreams one day at a time.
I personally am not sure what am I going to do now that he is gone. I have lived a life following and receiving inspiration from him that I am not quite sure how this works. I have often heard of people crying and mourning the loss of their favorite artists or idol and never truly understood how they could feel so connected to someone they didn’t even know. A connection that would bring them up to the point of tears, but today I now know.
Because as I watch the news and browse through the many articles talking about who he was on and off the court. I can’t help but feel sad and wonder how someone so young and successful could have left us this early in time.
I do not have an answer, and I am sure I am not the only one. But for now I am going to write what I should’ve written a long time ago.
Mr. Kobe Bryant you have been, are and will always be one of the best. Whatever sacrifices you made they paid off because I today millions of us across the globe are sad that you are gone. Your game and drive impacted so many of us, I can’t even begin to understand how we will go on. You are an inspiration to me. I wake up every day and after I workout I pick up one of the three books I have on a hutch to read before I have to leave for the day. One was given to me by my son James and it’s called The Alchemist the second one is called B and was given to me by my daughter Tiara. And the third is your book Kobe Bryant The Mamba Mentality How I Play that lifts me up and encourages me to work hard and never give up.
May you be in the perfect place we all often think about exists after life. May you and your daughter be looking upon us and realize how loved each of you are. May your life continue to be that of inspiration and example to those of us who aspire to be happy and complete in this life. We have lost one of the best of the best, but we’ll always have all of the memories that Kobe Bryant gave us that I have no doubt will be impossible to duplicate or surpass. May you rest in peace Kobe Bryant thank you for giving us your life.