Former NFL star Terrell Owens described it best on when he said, “It was devastating. My day just came to a complete halt.” Kobe Bryant, NBA legend, died at age 41. A helicopter crash claimed the lives of Bryant and eight others, including his teenage daughter Gianna. The sudden and tragic news came to me around 1:30 on Sunday afternoon when I got a message from one of my friends: “This can’t be real.” I was confused, so he shot back one word: “Kobe.” It felt like fake news. It had to be shoddy reporting done on an overheard rumor that was blown out of proportion. But no, the Calabasas helicopter crash was all too real.
Growing up, I remember watching Kobe dominate the NBA. I loved basketball, and Kobe was the human embodiment of it. From the 81-point game, shooting free throws with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the peak of his career, a 60-point outing in his final game. Our generation grew up with Kobe. He dominated the NBA for the better part of 20 years, always sporting the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Outside Staples Center, the crowds grew as citizens of LA came to pay their respects to the titan of the City of Angels. All across the NBA, teams took eight-second and 24-second violations to grieve with the rest of the world. Knicks broadcaster Mike Breen took to the air for the Knicks versus Nets game and said, “Just don’t feel like broadcasting. I know a lot of the players don’t feel like playing. It’s just a sad, sad day.”
But it wasn’t just the NBA that was impacted by this tragedy. Kobe was known best for his on-court accolades, of which there were many, but he truly was a renaissance man. He was an author and an Academy Award-winning director. He spoke several languages and had a love for the game of soccer, but above all, he was a husband and a father.
Gianna Bryant, his 13-year old daughter, was also in the helicopter on their way to a basketball game. Kobe often talked about his daughter and how he didn’t need a son to carry on his legacy, that she was doing it just fine. Kobe coached her team and taught her about the “Mamba Mentality” in the same way he taught all of us.
Kobe wasn’t perfect, but it was his pursuit of perfection that drove him to be one of the best players in NBA’s history. Even after retirement, Kobe would still get up at 4 a.m. to go work out. It was that drive and relentless work ethic that inspired so many people.
For the sports world, Kobe was an icon. He was the embodiment of the phrase, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” Howard Beck from Bleacher Report said, “Kobe cared deeply. About basketball. About legacy. About family. About being the best he could possibly in whatever he was doing at that moment. Whether playing, parenting or creating.”
Kobe Bryant will forever live on in the hearts of sports fans everywhere. Whether you loved basketball or not, Kobe’s work ethic in all things can inspire you to be great. Thank you, Kobe, for showing me what the pursuit of excellence looks like. Thank you, Kobe, for showing me there is more to life than just sports. Thank you, Kobe, for giving your all in everything you did.
Wrinkling up my piece of trash, I find the nearest trash can and shoot. Fading away, arm held high, I proudly exclaim, “Kobe!”