My sincere love for basketball started in early 2010. I quickly became a superfan of my hometown Dallas Mavericks, but I was obsessed with the league as a whole and all of its stars: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, the list goes on. I soon realized there was a player recognized above all others in the league and his name was Kobe Bryant, the superstar leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It didn’t take long to learn that his work ethic and determination were unparalleled. A quick YouTube search sent me on a journey through his early career:
- His slam dunk contest victory as a rookie
- His three championships before the age of 24
- The time he outscored my entire favorite team by himself in three quarters
- The way he scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, the second-highest mark in NBA history
I gained immense respect for the competitor that Kobe Bryant was, and watching him shaped my love for basketball.
I remember being so annoyed when I had to miss Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals because I was going to summer camp. Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Boston Celtics and I wanted to see the ultimate competitor that the Black Mamba was when the stakes were at their highest. Nobody cared to win in those situations more than Kobe.
I had a great amount of respect for the Lakers dynasty as I watched Kobe walk off the floor in defeat against the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011 NBA Playoffs. I was happy that the team I was rooting for had won, but I knew I had just potentially seen the end of something amazing, something one player had worked so hard to achieve.
I recall the pain I felt for Kobe when he tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2012-2013 regular season. He had just played one of his best seasons at the age of 34 and wouldn’t be able to see it through in the playoffs. His entire career was in question, but Kobe was the last person to give up in a situation like that. He was the guy who took two free throws, even after he was injured.
The end of Kobe’s playing career was sadly shaped by more injuries and team struggles, but he ended his 20-year journey playing basketball with 60 points. Shot after shot. Putting his whole team, really the entire city, on his back. It was classic Kobe, an iconic, electric performance that took over pop culture, and will never be forgotten.
In recent years, I learned more about Kobe Bryant, the father. As he took over his post-playing career in the same way that he did the NBA (winning an Oscar for his short film “Dear Basketball”), it was clear that the most important part of Bryant’s life was his family. I saw his daughters and wife, Vanessa, celebrate with him after winning championships, but in retirement, you could see Kobe carried a joy in being able to spend more time with his girls and the woman he was with for almost two decades.
Just a few weeks ago, I saw Kobe courtside with his 13-year old daughter Gianna, breaking down the game taking place in front of them. It was a beautiful moment, and it was obvious that Kobe loved teaching his daughter everything he knew. I was so excited about the potential of Gianna entering the WNBA in the future and taking over, just as her dad did in the NBA.
Kobe and Gianna tragically passed away along with seven others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Jan. 26. Families lost loved ones and the world of basketball lost a legend.
This day carries great sadness for many people across the world. Going through clips and highlights from his career has helped me think more about his life than his death, but lives were taken far too soon. What we have now are memories that will never be forgotten.
Rest in peace Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and all others involved in the horrific crash. May their legacy and impact on others live on.