Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas. As I type these words I am in absolute and utter shock. Kobe, a player I grew up watching, defines what it means to be a warrior, on and off the court.
Bryant was 18 years old when he got drafted out Lower-Merion high school right outside of Philadelphia. Kobe was born into basketball, obsessed with basketball. His dad Joe Bryant, played overseas for multiple years, mainly in Italy and France. He would end up being picked by the Charlotte Hornets with the thirteenth pick, only then to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Five NBA Championships, Two MVP’s, Two Finals MVP’s, 12-time All-Defense and 15-time All NBA. Thirteen teams would regret not taking Kobe in the 1996 draft but Jerry West (the teams GM at the time) saw something no one else did. A player who had a will to win that was unmatched and unparalleled.
The way Kobe handled himself on the court was unique and only comparable to one other player, his idol, Michael Jordan. There would be games Kobe would hit two or three shots that were mirror images of how Michael used to play. Kobe modeled his game after Michael, mastering his footwork, and the mid-range game. Yet, the way they were most similar was the way they approached and played the game, like a warrior.
There is an old saying that, “A warrior must only take care that his spirit is never broken”. That quote embodies how Kobe Bryant played the game of basketball. Not the nights where he was unstoppable scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. Or the nights he and Shaq terrorized the league. He was a warrior because he never took plays off, he never stopped working, and he never gave up. He believed in himself no matter what the obstacles were. It didn’t matter if it was the regular season or the finals, the pressure was never too much for the Black Mamba.
He wasn’t the first overall pick, he wasn’t the athlete Lebron James is or the shooter Steph Curry is. Kobe was more than that, he was the ultimate warrior. He played the game with a commitment and work ethic that we will never see again. He had this belief in his ability that borderlines insanity, yet for Kobe it was normal.
Kobe’s legacy that he left in this world comes from his mindset, the Mamba Mentality. The mindset of a true champion, working to attain a goal that everyone thinks is impossible, except for you. Jerry West the Lakers old General Manager and long-time NBA great talked about why he drafted Kobe and kept it short and sweet, “He was never going to give up”. West couldn’t be more right and as a result, the Lakers were a perennial powerhouse for most of Kobe’s career.
Kobe after retiring tackled a new challenge, film. He created an animated short film called Dear Basketball on his love of the game and how hard it was to finally walk away. Just like in basketball he excelled in this field and would win an Oscar in 2018. He only did things if his heart was in it and if he could give his all. You see so many athletes in movies now, commercials, music videos, whereas Kobe outside of a brief rap album, gave all he had to the game. He lived and breathed basketball in a way athletes will never again. That’s the difference between Kobe and the rest of the league, he was never satisfied.
What defines the life and career of Kobe is not all of the accolades he leaves behind, the shoe sales, or the statistics. What defined him was his relentless pursuit of greatness. He was always the most talented Laker working like he was the 12th man on the bench. Kobe is basketball, he is everything every young player should aspire to be. From the way, he carried himself as a father to the way he carried himself on the court. The mamba mentality was not just about basketball, it was a way of life that changed the NBA forever.