On Saturday night, NBA fans were abuzz that LeBron James was only 18 points away from eclipsing Kobe Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It was truly poetic that James, now a Los Angeles Laker would surpass one of the all-time greatest Lakers, Kobe Bryant, in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia. King James and the Black Mamba gave basketball fans a piece of NBA history to be remembered for years to come. In a post-game interview, James gave accounts of his interactions with Bryant over the years and what it meant to him to beat his record.
Never could anyone have imagined that the very next day Kobe Bryant would no longer be with us. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others tragically perished when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday. News of this accident hit hard sending shock waves that vibrated world-wide. His death hit particularly hard as I am like many an avid basketball fan who grew up watching and playing basketball during Bryant’s ascension into NBA greatness.
I am just old enough to remember Michael Jordan hitting “the shot” in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and his subsequent retirement. Even though Jordan was no longer playing, everyone, including myself, still wanted to “be like Mike”. I watched Kobe Bryant’s attempt to fill the void that Jordan left as he became the personification of what it meant to “be like Mike.” Bryant demonstrated extreme excellence on the court and showed us the way through his “Mamba Mentality”. With five NBA Championships, Kobe Bryant got pretty-close to “being like Mike.”
In his quest for greatness, he became Kobe Bryant – the Black Mamba and an inspiration to us all. Bryant showed us how to be relentless in our pursuits and defined the meaning of perseverance and hard work. He showed us how to be comfortable walking away from doing what you love when he scored 60 points in his last game. Soon after, he showed us not to be afraid to strive for excellence in other arenas when he made history as the first African American to win the Oscar for best animated short for “Dear Basketball”.
Bryant proved that the Mamba Mentality was applicable in all facets of life and that he was so much more than an athlete. He was a living legend and an inspiration. It is for these reasons that his death has had a profound effect on so many people, including those like myself who never had an opportunity to meet him.
As the news of his untimely death spread many of Bryant’s former teammates, former competitors, friends, and mentees began sharing stories of the NBA legend. Allen Iverson shared a story about Bryant during their first year in the league. Iverson stated that he was in L.A. for the first time and Bryant invited him to dinner. Bryant asked Iverson what was he doing after dinner and Iverson replied going to the club while Bryant said he was going to the gym. There Bryant was already showing glimpses of the Mamba Mentality.
After, reading Iverson’s statement I began thinking about one of the most exciting NBA Finals of my lifetime, the 2001 NBA Finals. In that series, the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers. I saw one of my hometown heroes, Allen Iverson, go against one of the best duos in all of sports -Shaq and Kobe. Similarly, Michael Jordan issued a statement stating that Bryant was like a little brother to him. After reading Jordan’s statement, I thought of the last matchup between Bryant and Jordan where Bryant dropped 55 points on Jordan who was then with Washington Wizards.
On Monday, LeBron James issued a heartfelt statement regarding Kobe Bryant’s passing. He stated that he had spoken to Bryant early Sunday morning before leaving Philadelphia. He also vowed to put the Laker’s legacy on his back. Upon reading James’ statement, I thought of the iconic photo of King James and the Black Mamba in Bryant’s final All-Star Game. They were both doing what they love – playing basketball.
In the midst of all these memories, I realized how lucky this generation of basketball fans have been to be able to witness and recall the greatness of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. These men are NBA legends and are all the GOAT in their own right.
In Bryant’s second act off the court, he was on a quest to be a great storyteller. Bryant founded a multimedia production company, Granite Studio. The company was to focus on creating content marrying sports with the themes of fantasy and storytelling. Bryant was building Granite Studios from the ground up starting with books. Bryant was certainly on his way to great success in the arena as well. Although Bryant’s second career was tragically cut short, he gave us perhaps his most profound story and lesson on Sunday. That is that the next second of life is not promised and the importance of showing your love and appreciation for your loved ones every day.