Kobe Bryant meant a lot to many people. He was a hero and an idol to many, a light at the end of the tunnel symbolizing the path you had to go through to ever be satisfied. His excellence, his demeanor, his work ethic were emulated by kids and adults who aspired to be like him.
But not everyone had the same experience watching Bean for those 20 years. For some of us, he represented a cultural beacon that lit our way in foreign and difficult circumstances.
We are so fortunate on our site to have a diverse crew of writers that includes first-generation immigrants from across the globe. All of us can directly tie our love of basketball, of writing to Kobe Bryant and the inspiration he gave us in our difficult times. He did it in one of the most iconically diverse cities in the world.
We may never do it justice but this is a story that has to be told. A story that may teach a lesson in a time when immigrants are harassed, detained and sent back to the homes they escaped. A story about how Kobe became the immigrant’s hero.
Here are just a few of the experiences we collected as immigrants who fell in love with Kobe.
Raj: As a first generation immigrant you have pressures that very few people can really understand. The responsibility set as needing to eventually be the breadwinner is a tough thing to shoulder. You are told from a young age that failure is not acceptable, and your destiny is to make it here.
I immigrated to the United States at three years old with a single mother. I knew about Kobe obviously living in Los Angeles, but didn’t fall in love with the game until around the end of middle school. My family used to joke that Kobe was my dad, considering I never really knew my real one.
Watching Kobe gave me as sense of peace in this pressure packed life. It felt like I could relate to him, his strive to be great coincided with how a lot of immigrants feel. They carry a pressure to succeed no matter what.
When he passed I got a phone call from my Mom who is overseas, and she completely understood why I was in absolute tears. Her lasting message was to grieve as long as you need but “learn from what he taught the world,” she said. That if you work extremely hard and put time into your craft, you can achieve great things. She always gave me the best advice, but this time she was borrowing from Kobe.
Kendrew: One instance come to mind when it comes to being a first-gen and Kobe. Back in December 2000, I was in the Philippines. He had a lot of fans. He and Shaq had the most common jerseys in the Manila area. Wearing my Laker shirt, you couldn’t tell I wasn’t really from there. Watching games at weird times with others was awesome. They loved Kobe there. He really ingratiated himself into that country and he still is revered to this very day. Relatives from New Zealand and France reached out to me after the news broke.
It’s hard to come to grips with his death. There were good and bad times. But his impact was global. I got into my profession cause I loved basketball (and thought I’d work for an NBA team). I met some of my closest friends because of the common bond we shared over this team that Kobe was the face of for two decades. It’d be disingenuous to say Kobe had no part of that. Because at the end of the day, without his influence, I’m not who I am.
So thank you Kobe. The world was robbed of what you had to bring to the game, your fans, and most importantly: your family.
Thai: As a first-generation immigrant growing up in a foreign country, I didn’t have that many role models I could look up to until I watched Kobe. Kobe and the Lakers were an inseparable duo for most of my entire life in America. They helped me make friends. They helped me fit in. They made me happy. Watching Kobe and the Lakers during my childhood not only helped me fall in love with the game of basketball but also as someone who was trying to learn English, listening to the Lakers broadcast improved my language skills and vocabulary. It’s crazy to think that listening to Kobe’s postgame talks and interviews accelerated my understanding of American vernacular.
I still can’t believe Kobe is not here anymore. I owe a lot of my happiness to Kobe and the Lakers. Sometimes they made me sad, frustrated, and even angry. But most importantly, growing up, Kobe and the Lakers made me feel alive with excitement and unlimited joy, and for that I am forever grateful.
Honi: I moved to the US alongside my family in 2002 when I was seven years old. It would have been about a month after Kobe and Shaq won their third and final championship together. At the time, I didn’t know what basketball was. Hell, I couldn’t speak English; I had bigger things to worry about.
But playing basketball during recess in the second grade is how I made friends at a time when I just wanted to stay afloat without speaking the language. I may not have understood it then, but basketball helped me out of my shell. It made me confident and led to me getting better at school and being more social halfway across the world from my cousins and friends.
Years later, when I had become a basketball and Lakers fan through my dad, I learned about Kobe’s experiences in Italy. How he was the loner kid who didn’t know the language but through basketball and soccer, he managed to survive halfway across the world from his hometown. That was me.
Being an immigrant is hard no matter your age. Being a first-generation immigrant means living in a household with a completely different culture than the environment you see at school or at your friends’ houses. I couldn’t party or date or be out late during high school like my classmates. But I could go to the local park in my Kobe jersey and shoot around with friends until it was dark. I got yelled at a few times because of it but I think my parents understood.
I always had this underlying belief in me that failure is never an option. My parents had given up their lives, their families, their careers to move to the United States just so my brothers and I could have better lives. We owed it to them to be successful and to never, ever give up. They instilled that mantra in me without ever saying it. Kobe made it a reality. A manifesto.
That pressure can be hard sometimes, though. It was hard for the 14-year-old in the park and it’s hard for the 24-year-old that’s been crying behind a phone or computer screen for two days. But when shit got hard, I always had basketball to turn to. I always had that escape. And I always had that motivation to keep pushing even when it seemed damn near impossible.
I have Kobe to thank for that.