There are some athletes that transcend their sport to become a part of something greater. Kobe Byrant was one such athlete. He was a player that we all grew up with, no matter if we lived in Los Angeles or London or Johannesburg. He was an inescapable force on the court- a player who had a commitment to winning, perfection, and an excellence that was easy to look up to as a teenager or an adult. He wasn’t just Bryant to a generation of fans used to using a player’s last name to define them and the personality.
To us, he was Kobe.
That is why his death at the age of 41 – along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people in various stages of their lives – is so difficult to comprehend and so painful to think about.
From a purely basketball standpoint, Kobe’s legacy will be that of one of the top five players in the history of the game. He played for 20 seasons after entering the league as a precocious 17-year-old phenom who skipped college ball entirely when that was still an option.
He is the Lakers’ career leader in too many categories to count including points, games, minutes, field goals and three-pointers (both made and attempted). He was an 18-time All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA player (tied for most in history), a 12-time All-Defensive team player, and a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010.
When Kobe retired he was third on the all-time scoring list with 33.643 points. As impressive as that is, it is more impressive because Kobe had games where he was literally unplayable. He scored 40+ points 122 times (third-most ever). He scored 50+ 25 times (third-most ever). He scored 60+ six times (second-most ever behind just Wilt Chamberlain who played in an era where no one could stop him with defensive tactics like they could Kobe).
His 2006, 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors is still the second-highest single-game total in the history of the NBA.
To many people in Los Angeles, he was everything to the city. He turned what was a baseball town – the LA Dodgers were the hottest ticket around – into a Lakers’ town on his own back (with a little help from Shaq). His 20 seasons in LA mark the most of any major professional sports star in the city and it is impossible to disconnect the franchise – and the city – from his presence.
No team has managed to win back-to-back-to-back NBA Titles since Kobe willed the Lakers to that feat at the turn of the century. Not the always consistent Spurs led by Tim Duncan, or the super-teams created by the Heat and Warriors in recent years. When Kobe didn’t want to lose, his teams simply couldn’t be beaten as he had a most tenacious will to succeed. His Mamba mentality, no doubt, shone through each and every single time he stepped onto court.
“I came up with it during one of our tours,” Bryant reportedly explained during his 2016 Mamba Mentality Tour, which aimed to challenge and inspire the upcoming generation of young athletes. “Because I put the kids through so many drills and clinics and I just thought to myself ‘mamba mentality.’ I actually said it. This is what embodies the brand of what we stand for.”
“To sum up what mamba mentality is, it means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself”.
In his final NBA game, Kobe scored 60 points in a comeback win over the Utah Jazz. It didn’t matter that those 60 points came on 50 shots as he increased his lead in the all-time missed shots category. Instead, it defined who Kobe was as a player. A player who would take any shot available as he knew you missed 100% of the shots that you don’t take. The ultimate competitor.
The world will never see what Kobe would have done with his post-NBA life- however, his family and the game he loved both so much would most definitely have been at the forefront of his future. A recent video that went viral with the sports legend and his daughter Gianna in the stands at a game, shows the loving relationship between father and daughter as they dissect the plays and learn together. Kobe should be remembered as both a superstar and as a family man who wanted the best for his daughters- as well as future generations of basketball players. The best way we can honor his legacy is to apply his constant level of focus and effort into what we do in our daily lives.
Kobe Bryant – Gone but never forgotten
August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020