Above: A tribute piece by artist Bosslogic following the death of Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna.
It’s been more than 24 hours, and I am still in a state of disbelief regarding the passing of Kobe Bean Bryant, his daughter Gianna ‘Gigi’ Bryant, and 7 other individuals in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Tributes have flown in from across the world, as the entire sports community is in mourning. Such was Kobe’s impact globally, that his legacy particularly resonated on a personal note with two of our own authors, Derek Chung and myself.
In a previous piece, I outlined how I became a Lakers fan from a young age. While Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers mystique was what captured my attention back in 1997, from my second year as a fan onwards, Kobe became my favourite player due to his immeasurable self confidence and his ability to hit impossible shots. Plus, the fact that I accepted that I was going to be a guard any level of the sport meant that my hero had to play a similar position to me.
When I started playing organized basketball from 2000 onwards, the Lakers kicked off their run of three straight titles behind the Shaq and Kobe duo, accelerating my love for the sport. I happened to be awful in my first season (scoring a total of four points), but I wanted to be like Kobe Bryant so badly that I put up shots in my backyard hoop every single day after school. This practice paid off: by my second year, I was no longer horrific and by my third year, I won my team’s MVP award.
Throughout my high school years (2004-2009) was when the bullying began. It was brutal, merciless, and would at times leave me in tears upon arriving home. When social media started to become a thing, it would even haunt me from the comfort of my own home. Those high school years were some of the darkest of my life, and even as an adult, they’ve left some scars that are yet to heal.
Throughout that time, basketball was my one real escape, with Kobe Bryant being my guiding light. Whenever I got home, the first thing I would do would be immersing myself in Lakers box scores and watching Kobe Bryant highlights. That would soon be followed by putting up shots in my backyard hoop, creating all sorts of shooting games for myself to keep me entertained in lieu of my siblings wanting to practice with me. I would read stories about his legendary work ethic and would dream about one day becoming a professional basketball player (not yet understanding the gravity of the unfortunate genetic limitations that I was bestowed with).
While in high school, I continued to excel at basketball, being the starting point guard for the best team in the state, as well as making the state team for a few years. The basketball court was the one place on earth where I felt like I was treated as an equal, where the bullying stopped, and where people treated me like a human being. Yes, some of my bullies ended up being my teammates, but when we were all on the court together, all that temporarily faded away. I was by far one of the least naturally talented players in both my club team and my state team, but I was amongst the most gritty and determined. I had unknowingly adopted the Mamba Mentality years before Kobe had officially coined the term.
In a time where I never thought that the days would get brighter, it turned out that working hard 5 days a week to be the best basketball player I could be was an incredible distraction. Years later, I would hear from old classmates that my strength in the face of all the adversity and bullying was remarkable, but what they don’t realise was that basketball saved me. Kobe Bryant saved me. If it wasn’t for basketball and for Kobe providing me with the distraction that they did during the darkest days of my life, I would not be half the man that I am today.
As an adult, I got to witness Kobe Bryant mellow out more, act as more of a mentor and begin to reinvent himself off the court. He showed me that you can still have a chip on your shoulder, but learn to channel it in a more positive manner. He showed me to choose humility over arrogance. He showed me the importance of cherishing and putting energy into my family. Through his ability to play through pain and come back from a string of horrific injuries, he showed me the importance of resilience in the face of immeasurable odds. And he showed me that the Mamba Mentality doesn’t just belong on the court, that you should strive to be the best version of you that you can be, no matter the area or the pursuit.
For those reading along who know me personally, yes at times, the chip on my shoulder can still be too prominent, and at times I can still be too arrogant. I’m far from a finished product, but I’m also much further along at 27 than I was at 22. Kobe taught me that it was okay to be imperfect, as long as you strive to be a bit better than you were yesterday.
Despite the 14 year age gap, in a way, I felt like I grew up alongside Kobe Bryant. Yet in the blink of an eye, a part of my childhood died in that helicopter. Kobe’s impact on the game of basketball was immeasurable, and has been outlined by people close to him far better than I could ever articulate. However, his impact on this earth went far beyond basketball. Just ask a young boy from Canberra, Australia.