Seven months since the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, there has not been a day his memory has not popped in my mind. Seven months later, it is still difficult for me to speak of that dreadful Sunday morning on Jan. 26.
Upon hearing the news of his tragic passing at first, I thought it was a joke. After quickly checking social media, it became a reality.
Tributes poured in from all corners of the world. Murals being painted in Italy, basketball courts being tattooed in artwork in the Philippines, and fans rushing to the Staples Center to mourn together.
Bryant’s impact became evident to me: he was bigger than basketball. Plain and simple. His impact stretched across the globe, touching every single person who ever watched him play.
It seemed like the entire planet had come to a halt that day.
Nothing mattered anymore. Nobody cared for how the weather was or what errands they had to run today. Our hero was gone. And that is what was most devastating.
Bryant was a part of our lives more than we ever realized. The countless nights staying up watching games he dominated, the constant arguments about why he was the greatest player of all-time, the never-ending times we tried to find any and everything related to our idol. For so many of us, Bryant was the missing piece of happiness in our lives.
As kids growing up in Los Angeles, we idolized every single aspect of him.
From replicating his two dribble post fadeaway to yelling ‘Kobe’ when throwing out the trash to practicing the ‘Mamba’ face to the jersey biting whenever you were in the zone, we tried our best to be exactly like him.
The effect Bryant had on so many of us is difficult to comprehend. As a Los Angeles Lakers fan growing up during his prime, I always felt confident in our team every season. Whether the starting center was Shaquille O’Neal or Roy Hibbert, it did not matter because we still had Bryant and that meant no matter what, he would fight to get us the win.
Whether it was popping his dislocated finger back on the sideline or playing the rest of the game left-handed after tearing his shoulder muscle or hitting two free-throws on a torn Achilles in a must-win game for the final playoff spot, Bryant always left it all on the court and was the epitome of a competitor.
Everyone can agree Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and arguably the greatest scorer. However, what made him so unique was not just his abilities on the court, but the mindset he had off it. The Mamba Mentality is more than just a form of motivation, it is a lifestyle.
It applies to the kid with two jobs chasing a Division 1 spot but still finding time to play basketball every day to the local mailman walking miles on end in 90-degree weather to deliver the mail, or even to the CEO of a company looking to change the world.
These people from extremely different backgrounds hold one thing in common: they were touched by that mindset.
We believed that with the Mamba Mentality anything can be done. Make every day better than the one before and keep pushing — it is what Bryant preached and oh did we listen.
The work ethic and determination of Bryant is something immigrants working two jobs a day can relate to. The passion and drive to excellence are what all athletes can relate to. The kindness and ability to teach the younger generation is what all people in education can relate to.
It is what makes Bryant so special. You did not need to be the star football player in high school to relate to him. From your local grocery store manager to your laundry mat owner, we were all motivated to be better because of Bryant and the hard work ethic he preached.
No matter what it was, if Bryant could get through it, we could too.
That is why that day in January hurt so much and that is why we celebrate him every day, not just on his birthday.
Bryant showed us 81, the ‘Mamba’ face, how to take over games, how to win at all costs, but most importantly, how to persevere through anything and achieve your dreams no matter what.
What made Bryant’s passing even more tragic was that he began leading a life post-retirement that was bigger than basketball — cementing an Academy Award to his resume and building the Mamba Academy for his daughter Gianna Bryant while being an advocate for women’s sports.
How many former NBA players can do that? None. There is simply only one Kobe Bryant.
The world is a worse place without Bryant, but I am confident he and his daughter are working on fall-aways and footwork in heaven while imploring us to keep pushing through.
Bryant would be proud of how we have stayed tough through this, but emphasize how this is just another bump in our own journey to greatness.
We keep his legacy strong here while he rests in peace up there. For one day, we will all meet again.
Happy Birthday, Kobe. We miss you.