Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant on sidelines with Team USA in Manchester, England, July 2012. 

Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise. – Kobe Bryant

My wife and I had just pulled up to our garage after running errands when she turned to me and asked, “Did Kobe Bryant die?” 

We gave each other a weird look. She continued, “That’s what it says on Facebook.”

I grabbed my phone and sure enough the first news stories were blowing up on all of my social media outlets. I stayed in my car and hit all the sports stations I usually follow, but they were saying nothing about Kobe Bryant passing away. 

I switched to TMZ Sports, my reliable source for breaking stories about celebrity athletes and the website was down. Social media was suggesting hackers had spread the rumor. But then Fox News, CNN, ESPN and everyone else announced the reality. 

On Jan. 26 Kobe Bean Bryant, also known as the “Black Mamba,” had indeed died at the age of 41. Other victims in this tragic crash included Gianna (Gigi) Maria Onore Bryant, Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter, another teammate from the Mamba Sports Academy and her parents, Mamba Basketball coach Christina Mauser, the pilot and two other persons unidentified at the writing of this article.  Nine lives tragically lost.

I’m at a loss for words. Kobe Bryant is dead. I still can’t get my mind around it.

I have been a Los Angeles Lakers fan since 1979 when my all-time favorite player Magic Johnson joined the team. And after the original showtime Lakers had gone, we wondered what was next. Well after Jerry West started putting his new plan together, he saw that landing a young high school phenom in a draft day trade from Charlotte might be the way to go. And bringing the high school All-American to Los Angeles set in motion the second act of the Lakers historic run. 

Along with Shaquille O’Neil, Kobe Bryant became the gold standard for all Lakers legends.  With all the swagger, and with nothing but hard work, Kobe became arguably the greatest Lakers of all time.

I'll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it's sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot. – Kobe Bryant                                                  

I’ll leave Kobe’s statistics for other writers to go over; most of you have heard them before – the 81-point game, the five NBA championships, 18 time All-Star, 12 time All-Defensive team, 60 points in his final game, just to name a few in his 20-year Lakers career.

The way Kobe dominated both ends of the court were incredible. The high-flying athlete reminded many of the next coming of Michael Jordan, and he came close. Even mimicking some of Jordan’s signature moves, Kobe and Shaq led the Lakers to a three-peat from 1999-2000 thru 2001-2002.

I remember him as a legend coming into his own during that stretch. His continuing, without Shaq, to win two more rings in 2009 and 2010 truly cemented Kobe, in my opinion, as right up there with Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and any other Lakers’ legends. But what impressed me lately with Kobe was his post-NBA life, guided by his “Mamba” philosophy. Kobe had adopted the Black Mamba moniker to separate himself from other athletes. He once explained the origins of the “Mamba Mentality.”

“I had to separate myself,” Bryant said, in Business Insider. “It felt like there were so many things coming at once. It was just becoming very, very confusing. I had to organize things. So, I created The Black Mamba.”

For fans, like myself, Kobe was “Mamba” because of his focus, the dedication to his craft, and for the expectations he had for his teammates to put in the same amount of work to succeed.  Some may have said Kobe was difficult to play with and maybe there is a bit of truth in that, but the great ones demand much from themselves and others, whether in the sports arena or in the business world. And Kobe was well on his way to conquering the business world in his second act with his Mamba mentality. 

At his Mamba Sports Academy, a multi-sports training academy, he was teaching kids to play the game the right way. He also was an advocate and stressed the importance of women’s basketball to everyone, a position much needed in this AAU sports dominated society. 

As a parent I supported Kobe going against the AAU model for kid’s basketball and applauded when he won an Oscar Award for his short animated film, “Dear Basketball” based on an original poem he wrote. 

Kobe seemed eager about life after the NBA. There were future projects informed by his Mamba mentality and business deals on the horizon. Tragically, the latter will never happen.

Kobe Bryant is dead. It’s still ringing in my head like the refrain from a bad song.

Kobe, you will never be forgotten; your legacy will rise. Who else has two numbers (8 and 24) retired by the same team? You were a true leader in every sense of the word and will be missed.

History already shows you were one of the greatest athletes to ever play.

Now may you and your daughter rest in peace.

© 2020 Vince Wright

Vince Wright is a sports commentator and podcast host of Tuesday night’s “Sports Done Wright” based out of the Twin Cities and available on most major podcast streaming services.  He also cohosts “The Northstar Sports Podcast” and covers the St. Paul Saints and other local sports events. 

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