Kobe Bryant is gone…
I still can’t comprehend that statement five days later and my mind is still racing over the fact that my favorite person that I had never spoken to passed away.
The man that I have admired and idolized ever since I can remember has now passed away along with his daughter and seven other people. I can’t imagine what his family and the passengers’ families are going through.
I was born in a basketball household in Orlando on February 8th, 1996. My dad loved basketball. My brother who is 10 years older than me loved basketball. Even my sister watched basketball with the family. I was raised on stories of my family coming together to watch basketball in the 1990’s.
I was fortunate enough to attend a wedding in Pakistan this past week and I actually came back to Orlando on Sunday afternoon. I had just gotten the chance to sit down, warm up some pasta, and watch some soccer, my other passion (Juve-Napoli). I got a call from a friend and couldn’t believe it. I was in shock, I got tears in my eyes and sat on the couch for the next few hours flipping through Twitter and various news channels. I was so occupied with the news that I realized that I had been sitting on my plate of pasta that I had put on the couch to answer the phone call.
One of my first memories of basketball is the Lakers-Blazers series in 2000 where my brother is going crazy for the Lakers and a guy named Kobe Bryant. I had a special liking for the number 8 and it has always been my favorite number since I was a kid and here was this guy with a cool afro and a silky game wearing that special number 8. I fell in love with Kobe from that moment on. My brother and I frequently played NBA courtside on N64 and guess who was the cover athlete on that game in 1997? Kobe Bryant. Next, we got a PS2 and my brother bought NBA street. I always used to pick the Lakers because of the guy with the gold jersey and number 8 on his back, Kobe.
My brothers and I frequently played basketball in our driveway yelling “Kobe” on the most difficult shots. I used to shoot by myself in the driveway late into the night practicing all his moves so that I could use them against my brothers and friends in pickup.
Before 6th grade, in 2008, my parents finally bought me a white #24 Kobe jersey. Almost everyone I knew either loved Kobe or respected the hell out of him for the work he put in and the game winners that came so often. The season that will make me love Kobe forever is not 2009 or 2010 or even his MVP year (although those are close seconds) but actually the 2012-13 season. 2009 and 2010 had the most game-winners I can ever remember in one season by a player. It was so ridiculous you felt God was on his side sometimes. My friends were making fun of me because I was wearing my Kobe jersey so often to school. I even had a black mamba wrist band that I wore so much it broke. I wore it so often that some of my friends in gym class started calling me the brown mamba. I still have this one that came in the pack with the black mamba one:
Being in Orlando, the Magic were my second favorite team and Dwight Howard was my second favorite player behind Kobe and the Lakers. With them joining up, it seemed like a dream come true and a match made in heaven. I was in 10th grade during this time and probably watched the most Laker games live in a season that I have ever watched. It was also the time where streaming was becoming more popular and I was trying to watch every game in hopes that this one would be the one that sparked a turnaround. I believed along with Kobe that it would eventually work and all the Lakers needed was a shot in the playoffs.
Kobe worked his hardest that season and put on some of my favorite ever performances with my top one being the performance against the Raptors. He was still at the top of his game and had some insane poster dunks including the one versus Brooklyn and the one on Josh Smith. Everyone could see that no matter how bad the rest of the team played, you were gonna get 110% from Kobe Bryant on both sides of the ball.
The 2012-13 season was also the first time I was able to see Kobe live at the Amway Center. At 17 years old, I begged my parents to buy me a ticket. I had been to plenty of Magic games before but this time my dad and brother were busy so it was my first game alone and I loved every second of it. This was also Dwight’s first game back in Orlando so the crowd was amazing and of course, I’m wearing my Kobe jersey so people are booing me on the way in. It didn’t matter to me; I was over the moon about finally watching my basketball idol in person. The beginning was perfect, the Lakers won the tip and Kobe pulled from behind the arc straight away and swish. I never expected anything else. It was as if that shot was for all the people who paid hard-earned money to be there to see him.
However, that season ended in the most disheartening way. With Kobe dragging the team to victories and a shot at the playoffs, it finally ended in a game in Oakland against the Warriors. While driving to the hoop, he snapped his Achilles and effectively ended his title-contending career. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him crying in the locker room after they had just beaten the Warriors. It was heartbreaking to see him like that. The two free throws and then limping back was so badass only Kobe could do that.
Finally the last game. I remember exactly where I was when I watched it and everyone I was with during the game. He gave us one last moment of greatness to cherish forever. I didn’t have high hopes for the relatively meaningless game but by the time the fourth quarter came around, it felt like game seven of the NBA finals. The Lakers had to win and everyone knew Kobe would make the necessary shots needed to win the game. He might’ve had a poor shooting night but the thing that critics overlook is the three or four shots he needed to make just to catch fire. He has one of the highest peaks ever for a shooter in basketball history. The ‘on fire’ term could be used specifically for him. The difficulty of shots and how easy he made it look is what you think of when you think of Kobe. This was his last fight and of course he made the game winner and of course he scored 60. This is Kobe we are talking about. It was the perfect ending for the ultimate entertainer in the city of angels.
The reason I believe he has one of the most passionate fan bases is because he understood from the very beginning that people respect hard work. It was also why he feuded with Shaq and it’s also why every young guy looks up to him in basketball, soccer, football, tennis, and any other competition. Sure, he has great genes and a family of basketball but you couldn’t knock him for how hard he worked. He was always a student of knowledge who happened to choose basketball. He probably would’ve excelled in any career path he chose but I’m glad he chose the one he did. His “Mamba Mentality” will always be an inspiration for kids and adults to keep working and getting better. Even if the results don’t come, Kobe is one who appreciated the process which is why he seemed so content with post-NBA life. He knew he gave it his all and his fans did too.
After retiring, we saw the same mentality with his kids too. He had the same passion in being a father and teaching his daughters. He became not just a basketball role model but now a real-life superhero billions of people looked up to around the world for his qualities as a girl dad. We were now learning more about him as a person and not just a player. I’m not sure if even he expected this when he retired but he was truly enjoying life as a full time dad.
Everyone sees the outpouring of emotion and support on TV, Twitter, and even at the Staples Center but I can’t imagine what his blood relatives are going through. He felt invincible to fans and I’m sure his family felt the same way.
My prayers go out to the Bryant family and all the other families that were affected by this horrific tragedy.
On January 26th, The world lost a superhero.
If Marvel or DC ever wrote a sports superhero script, even they couldn’t conjure up a story as impactful and legendary as this. Someone would laugh them out of the room but Kobe’s story will live on in households forever.
There is so much more I could write but for now, all I can say is: I loved him 33000.