We often immortalize athletes through their accolades, their success in their craft and the ripple they cause when their name is merely dropped into a conversation between fans. As much as those achievements hold weight in the timeliness of that exchange, they quickly become the anchor of that athlete’s legacy when his or her life is taken too soon. With the loss of Kobe Bryant, we mourn the death of an all-time great who didn’t just cause ripples with every splash from an off-balanced shot beyond the arc against a double-team, but also generated a tidal wave in the spirit of the game that would continue to carve out the future of basketball.
When you witnessed the Black Mamba glide down the court, snaking between defenders before sinking a shot that left even his opponents in awe, it was easy to get lost in what the name “Kobe” meant to those who watched him.
In society, a “first-name basis” is achieved through the familiarity that is woven into a relationship. It was rare to refer to Kobe by his last name “Bryant” as we do with many athletes. That’s because fans’ admiration quickly turned into a personal bond as they welcomed Kobe into their homes every time they flipped on their televisions to watch him consistently dominate. Fans would yell “Kobe for three!” like they were watching a good family friend on the court and would even adopt his persona when they made a wad of paper into a trash can.
Everyone has an “I remember when” moment with Kobe. Some knew him as a loyal Laker, a player who chose to stay in one place for 20 years and grow that relationship with fans every night he stepped onto the court. That’s a coveted value in a world that is sometimes looking for the next best thing. However, his fans didn’t need the next best thing because Kobe was already right in front of their eyes in a number 24 jersey grinding it out every single game.
For others, he was a model of true greatness -- an 18-time NBA All-Star with an NBA Championship ring on every one of his five fingers. Many young hopefuls, looking for motivation, saw him as the sixth player in NBA history to go straight from high school to the NBA. For me, he was a gracious professional who greeted an excited 18-year-old Abby with a genuine handshake and smile after delivering a stellar performance in front of a crowd that included me and a group of my friends at the Staples Center. Kobe wasn’t just an ambassador of the game we’ve fondly seen evolve, he was a way for people to connect to one another.
As fans, we watch the exchange of accolades between all-time greats as if it’s a sequel to our favorite movie. We hold the original in our hearts, but tease ourselves with a version that could potentially live up to the hype of the first. LeBron James may have recently surpassed Kobe on the NBA all-time scoring list, but as great of a sequel LBJ is to Kobe in terms of the lifelong discussion of “all-time greats,” we will always remember the OG #8 with fond hearts.
Kobe, thank you for the awe-inspiring moments you gifted the game of basketball. I know you’ve Euro stepped your way into Heaven holding the hand of your beautiful 13-year-old, Gianna.