As soon as the word broke that Kobe Bryant was one of the victims of the tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas on January 26, basketball fans all over the world stood in disbelief, mourning the loss of a beloved Los Angeles Lakers legend. The news was almost unfathomable considering his prolific career had been a topic of conversation with the media the night before as Lebron James passed Bryant as the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) 3rd All-Time Scoring Leader.
Raised in Italy before moving to Philadelphia for high school, the son of former NBA player Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, grew up around basketball. “Kobe,” as basketball fans affectionately refer to Bryant, was drafted straight out of high school in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets at the age of 17, but later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. At age 18, he became the youngest player in NBA history to start a game. His entrance into the NBA was the first accomplished goal of an athlete who had dedicated his life to basketball.
Many of his friends often commented on his drive to become one of the greatest players of all time. His single-mindedness to win, to be the best, to impose his will upon others would help define his 20 year career. It would also define his self-proclaimed nickname: “Black Mamba.” This mindset and drive would later become known as the “Mamba Mentality.”
The Mamba Mentality often made him a hero or villain depending on who was at the other end of his laser-focused drive. Regardless, no one would dispute the results. Five NBA Championships, 18 All-Star selections, a 2008 Most Valuable Player award and two Olympic gold medals later, this ambition to succeed would eventually endear him not only to the Lakers fans, but to basketball fans around the world.
In retirement, Bryant’s competitive spirit was not exhausted, but rather redirected. He knew that there was more to life than just basketball. He focused his attention on storytelling and made it his mission to try to better his community. He wanted to prove to the world that there was more to athletes than just playing the game.
“Now, championships come and go. Right? There’s going to be another team that wins an NBA Championship, another player that wins another MVP award. But if you really want to create something that lasts generations, you have to help inspire the next generation,” Bryant told CNBC in an interview in 2016.
He began to work hard to accomplish some of his other goals, such as publishing his book “The Mamba Mentality” in 2018 and winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for his short film “Dear Basketball.”
More than anything, his new challenge was to become the best father and husband that he could be to his four daughters and wife. Especially over the last few years, we were able to see him grow into the “girl dad” that he always hoped he would become. In the same year of his retirement, Bryant opened the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he would later help coach his daughter Gianna’s basketball team.
Being a father and watching Gianna’s growing love for basketball — undoubtedly inherited from her father — led Bryant to become largely invested in women’s sports. Hoping that he could create better opportunities for the next generations of young women, such as his daughter, he became a prominent advocate for women’s basketball at the collegiate and professional level. As he attended Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and college games and spoke out for women in sports, the Mamba Mentality became gender neutral.
“It’s all about focus; I don’t care who you are, where you’re from; doesn’t matter. “It’s just having a focus and having a purpose,” Bryant said on the Pac-12 Networks.
In the span of his life, Bryant taught us the value of hard work and dedication. He showed us what it meant to rise above the rest, even in the face of hardship. As our hearts ache for the family and friends of the nine victims, we must remember to continue the legacy that Bryant left behind; a call for us to face challenges and pressure, and choose to rise above it.
Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. As long as we continue the “Mamba Mentality,” Kobe will continue to live on forever as one of the greatest competitors of all time.
“In the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten,” Lebron James said.