On the one year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s passing the world remembers an athlete who transcended the game and became a global icon. A player so amazing that his fadeaway, will to win and steadfast desire to improve are qualities that will leave an indelible mark on all those who watched him hoop.
Growing up in Los Angeles during the early 2000’s, Kobe was the Lakers and the biggest star in the NBA. We watched him grow up from a springy teenager that wanted to dunk on his opponents to a grizzled man who used his footwork and brain to out-think and out maneuver the other teams’ defense. Kobe Bryant was unafraid to fail and always wanted to take the big shot.
Bryant’s thirst for knowledge lead to a brotherly bond with Michael Jordan, the player who most closely resembles Bryant’s game. This became more apparent during Bryant’s memorial service when a crying Jordan recalled how Bryant would call him and ask him a million questions and how he’ll deeply miss his basketball brother.
Bryant was never too proud to ask for help in his quest to maximize his potential to become the best player he could be. Bryant operated on a wavelength that most humans, even professional athletes do not. There are few people that are born with that inner competitive drive and don’t need outside motivation to achieve greatness. Both Jordan and Bryant are similar in this regard and will forever be linked.
When Bryant got to the NBA he was surprised that his fellow teammates didn’t share the same passion he did for basketball and didn’t work as hard at their craft. This is one of the reasons that him and Shaquille O’Neal clashed during their triumphant and tumultuous years as teammates. Shaq was supremely talented and dominant, but didn’t work as hard as Bryant, and this frustrated him to no end because he couldn’t understand why a player with so many physical advantages didn’t yearn to be the best he could be.
Bryant was just wired differently which is what made him such a polarizing player. The perfect mix of will and skill coupled with great athleticism and a legendary work ethic made Bryant a dominant player. Bryant would get less sleep so he could get another workout in, then still be back home in time to wake his daughters up for school. Bryant wasn’t willing to miss time with his family or a chance to improve on his game, so he sacrificed sleep.
The criticisms were that he could’ve passed more and been a better teammate. Those lean years after Shaq left the Lakers, Bryant went full destroyer mode and became an unstoppable scorer with teams that didn’t match his level of talent and never took a night off. Bryant was just doing what he thought was best for the Lakers and always gave them a chance to win.
The trade for Pau Gasol allowed Bryant to reach championship success once again after he’d matured and realized how important it was to push his teammates to be the best version of themselves. Bryant lead through challenging his teammates instead of being the “nice guy” he was going to be demanding, especially after the Boston Celtics dismantled the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. Those back to back Titles in ’09 and ’10 really cemented Bryant’s legacy as the greatest Laker ever and one of the best players ever.
The ridiculous scoring output, the clutch shots, the footwork, the mastery of the fadeaway and winning at all costs are some of what make Bryant a singular force of nature and more than a basketball player. Bryant played every minute of every game down the stretch of the 2012-13 season in an attempt to will the Lakers to the playoffs. Unfortunately, his body couldn’t handle it and he tore his Achilles right before the playoffs started.
Bryant wanted to give every ounce of himself in trying to lead the Lakers back to the championship. It’s hard to imagine in today’s NBA a top player playing every minute of every game towards the end of the season, but that’s who Bryant was. A relentless competitor and sometimes even at a detriment to himself and his long term health.
However, Bryant was never going to let a devastating injury end his career. Bryant went out like only he could with 60 points in the last game of his storied career. Bryant gave us one more legendary game to remember him by before leaving the Lakers a changed franchise and the game in a better place than when he found it.
Bryant is immortal and a true legend that gave us more than just great basketball. After retiring, Bryant was a storyteller with his production company, “Granity Studios”, and would’ve accomplished so much more beyond the court. Bryant’s impact on the world is far more than his statistics or the 5 championships he won with the Lakers. Bryant represents excellence, hard work, an unrelenting desire to improve and being the best version of oneself.
The loss of those other people on the helicopter makes the tragedy all the more devastating. His daughter, Gianna Bryant was going to be in the WNBA and carry on his legacy and become a great basketball player. Bryant didn’t need to have a son and loved being a “girl dad.” Bryant not only mentored young NBA players, but also countless women’s players and became a famous ally for women’s basketball. As a big advocate for the women’s game, Bryant wanted to give back to the younger generation and share his knowledge and philosophy.
Reading his book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” gives a window into how Bryant thought and understood the world. There’s a lot of great knowledge in there and it is a must read for any Kobe fan. This quote for his book summarizes his work ethic and can apply to any pursuit in life. “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.
They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread themselves out. That’s totally fine. After all, greatness is not for everybody.” (Kobe Bryant, pg. 33) Kobe forever. Mamba forever.
LA sports fan, DePaul graduate and aspiring sports journalist. Check out my articles for unique viewpoints that offer a mix of statistics and analysis to give readers a well rounded perspective.