I walked into work at 8:10AM on Monday, January 27th. I passed the long way to my cubicle, dodging a bunch of the other early birds who I was pretty sure were eager to peck at how I felt about the news.
I didn’t really want to see anyone yet, but just as I began to settle into my work, my boss spotted me.
“I was worried about you today,” she said, seemingly concerned, yet still slightly playful.
“Are you okay?”
It was the tone of someone unsure about the manner in which to approach the interaction. Nine people just died in a freak accident, and among them was one of the world’s most influential athletes of all-time. But as tragic as the circumstances of his death were, to the average person, Kobe Bryant may have just been another household name in a world filled with unworthy idols.
I sputtered around my answer, trying to explain the gravity of the tragedy, and the impact of Kobe in my life and the lives of those whom I grew up with. But as a lifelong NBA diehard, as someone who has invested rational and irrational emotions, as well as countless hours following the sport, how could I make her understand in a 30-second exchange just how much this loss meant to millions of people like me?
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t blame her for falling short of the empathy expected from someone after a tragic death since, well, I didn’t know Kobe. Neither am I dismissive of the hundreds of people on yours and my social media feeds sharing their sentiments about Kobe despite not exactly being avid fans of the sport. Because basketball, for as popular as it is, has different levels of value to different people, while tragedy can both unite and divide.
However, what really frustrates me is that I couldn’t give my boss an oral history of Kobe’s life, or sit her down for just 15 minutes to celebrate my generation’s Michael Jordan. Nor can I give her or anyone a pair of glasses to see through my viewpoint and fully comprehend the agony of losing someone I had never had a single conversation with.
All I have is this platform and five-hundred more words, so here it goes.
I sat on my bed a few hours after learning about Kobe’s death, and my mind couldn’t help but drift to all the Kobe fans I have met in my life.
When I was a kid, they were the worst. I hated having to deal with their inherent irrationality and boastfulness about the success of their idol. I had always been confused at that thought of why someone so conceited could be loved so loyally.
Twenty years later, I realized that Kobe won people over with the relatability of his actions. He obsessed over the success in the game he so passionately loved. When he said he wanted to be better than Michael Jordan as a crazy teenager entering the NBA out of high school, he backed it up by actually working for it. His ‘4AMs’, as he would put it, were why he made it to where he was.
While there are plenty of athletes out there who harp on their hard work as the cause for their success, no one inspired, motivated and utilized it for others the way Kobe did. He literally made the #MambaMentality, which he said was constantly trying to be the best version of yourself. But he said this was a lifestyle, one that transcended basketball and sports. He believed that whatever your craft may be, success predicated on your dedication, hard work and Mamba mentality.
Pull a Kobe fan aside and I’m sure he or she will tell you about more than one early morning grind powered through by thinking, “Kobe did this too.” I can for damn sure say that I’ve seen friends and contemporaries, some of whom I know literally only through basketball and as Kobe fans, cling to the Mamba Mentality as their daily motto, or their 5AM grind tweet.
But if you can’t grasp my personal viewpoint, nor can you find someone in your immediate circle that is a Kobe stan, then I have a few direct Kobe products: Current NBA players Joel Embiid and Giannis Antekounmpo. Both of them are 25 years of age, and currently in the top 10 players in the NBA, with the latter having just recently won NBA MVP. Both of them are also international players: Embiid coming from Cameroon, and Giannis from Greece.
Joel Embiid first touched a basketball when he was 15 years old, and he never would’ve had it not been for watching Kobe and the killer instinct and drive of the Mamba that engrossed the court unlike any other.
“One of the reasons I started playing basketball, one of the reasons I’m here today.”Giannis, on Kobe
Giannis was a poor teenager trying to help his family out of poverty in Greece. Kobe did not only inspire him to play basketball, but he was one of the believers in Giannis’ ability to be the best in the game.
These are the lives of these two supreme athletes, among others, that would have been drastically different if not for Kobe. And while they became professional athletes, Kobe was as much their contemporary on the court as he was a figure to admire. The way he impacted Embiid and Giannis to be professional athletes may be the same way he impacted a 5’2″, seventeen year-old Filipino boy from the province to rise from poverty.
Somewhere in your inner circle, maybe on multiple instances, a life was significantly changed because of Kobe Bryant. They didn’t need to meet him, they didn’t have to talk to him, they didn’t have to even see him. They are who they are, and who they will be, in large part because of the Mamba.
That’s the value of Kobe Bryant.
May he rest in peace.