It is with a heavy heart and much sorrow I write that NBA superstar, husband, role model to many and, most importantly, a father of four has passed away along with his 13-year-old daughter “Gigi” Gianni. Baseball coach John Altobelli, his daughter Alyssa and wife Keri were also killed in the crash. Coach Christina Mauser, Pilot Ara Zobayan, and mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester were also victims of this tragedy.
This article isn’t about the crash though, it’s about Kobe Bryant and what he meant to me.
Hours before I wrote this, I was still in shock. Now, it’s finally settling in and I have to hold back tears as I’m writing this.
To me and many others, Kobe wasn’t just a person on our TV screens. He was something more, he represented something larger than basketball. A persona and work ethic larger than life. He represented hard work, loyalty, and talent. Kobe put his heart, blood, life, sweat, time and tears into a game just so every kid could smile, just so that kid who begged his mom for tickets to the Lakers game could enjoy it. He played through injuries not for himself but for others. He is the embodiment of what it meant to work hard, he was a true winner.
When I first got into basketball I would watch many YouTubers trying to learn more and more about the game. There were three athletes that intrigued me the most. Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich and Kobe Bean Bryant.
The stories I had heard of him were something else. He put everything he had into the game and gave it his all. He went to lengths then unheard of. I’m surprised he didn’t trash talk more because he had the work ethic and talent to back it up.
This was The Black Mamba, The Last Samurai, Mr. 81, The Dagger, KB-24.
There was no man on this Earth like this man. He woke up at 4:00 AM, worked out until practice, then after practice he wouldn’t leave until he had made four hundred shots.
From the stories of him only getting three hours of sleep to the ones of him trying to take two-thousand shots a day, he simply put me in awe.
But, the greatest example of his insane work ethic might be the night before Team USA’s first practice. Kobe and his then trainer Tim Grover completed a 40-mile bike ride that ended at 2:30 in the morning. Five hours later, Kobe was the first one in the gym working out before a full day of practice.
This is a story I just recently heard from Jay Williams, a former NBA player. He was getting ready for a game against Kobe and Shaq at 7 PM. He came in at 3 PM to get himself ready. When he walked in, he saw Kobe already working out.
Now, this wasn’t some lazy, slumped Kobe. This was Kobe working at his hardest because, to him, practice felt like game seven of the finals. Fast forward after the game, Kobe dropped forty something and Jay was just in awe. He asks Kobe why he works like that and Kobe responds with the most Kobe response ever. “‘Cause I saw you come in and, I wanted you to know, that it doesn’t matter how hard you work that. I’m willing to work harder than you.”
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s not even half of his greatness.
This wasn’t any ordinary man, this was The Black Mamba, The Last Samurai, Mr. 81, The Dagger, KB-24.
If you asked many modern-day players and fans of the NBA about their favorite players and I guarantee you Kobe would come up, even before his death. Most fans and players came up awe-inspired by Kobe. If you ask them why they got into it, they’ll most likely mention Kobe.
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t like basketball that much at first until I saw many of my friends imitating Kobe himself. Everything about Kobe made you want to be better, people say just being in his presence has a certain aura, an aura that just made you want to work harder. Words cannot describe his impact on the league, and how he impacted the current and future generations of players. He showed basketball wasn’t just a sport but it was a place where he could vent.
Kobe’s famous eighty-one point game happened on the night of January 22, 2006, the day of grandfather’s birthday who had passed a few years prior and, that night, Kobe’s grandma got to witness him in her first and only ever live NBA game.
Kobe took all those emotions and instead turned it into fuel to push him to his max. His “mamba mentality” was one that even I carry with me, the mentality of always wanting to get better, to be the best. That mentality inspired millions.
And, to Kobe, I never met you and you’ve never met me but the way you impacted so many people was legendary and unforgettable, you paved the way for this generation and so many more to come. There will never be another Kobe Bryant in any sort of way.
Even though you were retired you still had so much to offer. Your wisdom, knowledge, and experience in the game of basketball had things we could all learn from.
You were larger than basketball. You were an amazing husband, son, grandson, player, teacher, and father. I saw clips of you and your daughter Gigi, you were bright souls who don’t deserve, and neither did any of the other victims.
One of my favorite stories was after one of Gigi’s basketball games, the interviewer called you Gigi’s dad and not Kobe. Your face lit up with joy and you had a huge smile on your face. You wanted others to shine as proven by the way you always congratulated people after accomplishments, you didn’t greet them as Kobe the famous legendary player but you greeted them as a friend, as brothers.
Gigi, you were so good that, at only thirteen, they predicted you would put the WNBA on the map. Sadly, we will never know if that would have happened.
I’ve cried a lot today as it’s finally settling in that you’re gone and I have to hold back tears at the moment of me typing this. You captivated us with the way you carried yourself.
Long live the Last Samurai, long live the Black Mamba and, most importantly, long live Kobe Bean Bryant for dedicating your life to fans and your family, even until your last breath.
Kobe, farewell and thank you.
Editor’s Note: The Eye extends its deepest condolences to the Bryant, Mauser Chester, Zobayan and Altobelli families, their friends, and their respective athletes.