For most of our lifetime, Kobe Bryant was someone who was very divisive. This wasn’t by accident. Kobe versus Michael. Kobe versus LeBron. Kobe’s whole schtick was how he wanted to be the very best. Better than MJ. Better than LBJ and the rest of the league. Kobe and his fans believed that wholeheartedly and were ready to defend that stance with those who tore down their idol.
But on January 27, 2020, Kobe turned from divisive figure into a unifying force. The world had just lost Kobe to a helicopter accident and his daughter, Gigi, along with seven other victims in a tragic accident. Social media platforms turned into a place where everyone could grieve this loss. We no longer had the energy to debate about just how good Kobe was in the sport of basketball. That didn’t matter anymore, because in the larger scheme of things, he was gone.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t like Kobe for most of my life. I scoffed at how he took so many shots and how inefficient he was. I laughed at how he was a poor man’s Michael Jordan in terms of his skill instead of trying to be something inherently unique. I believed LeBron was better than Kobe. I even went as far as to tell friends that in the game of basketball, Kevin Durant was a better player than Kobe. LeBron and KD were efficient machines who played basketball the way I believed it should have been played; the right way. Within a team system. With the right shot in mind instead of one’s selfish desires. Kobe, in my eyes, was the antithesis of everything I believed in terms of basketball.
Yet somehow, I could never completely remove his influence from my life. I never bothered to take off the posters in my room which had Kobe’s face on them. “Kobe!” was something I almost always shouted whenever I’d attempt a fadeaway (so much for being efficient in the basketball court) during pick-up games. I’m sure I had my own version of the Mamba face on the court, even though it probably looked like I needed to go to the bathroom instead of wanting to win that game of pick-up.
Then of course, there’s Mamba Mentality.
More than the posters, the fadeaways, and the funny faces, it was Mamba Mentality which always resonated with me when it came to Kobe. I did not like him. But I could not deny my respect for him. As a matter of fact, one memory stands out when I look back at how Kobe was part of my life.
My respect for him was so strong that I cut an important class just to watch his final game in the NBA. He wasn’t my favorite player. I did not have the reverence for him that other people had. But during that final game of his, I excitedly watched him score bucket after bucket along with 30 or so people in Zark’s Katipunan.
Not everyone in that restaurant was a Kobe fan. But as we cheered him on to reach higher and higher. We all exploded in jubilation once he hit that final free throw to get to 60. Looking around the restaurant that day, I realized that there’s a Mamba in each and everyone one of us.
We show it in the basketball courts which we played in. It’s always present in our classrooms and offices. Even when we play simple board games with family in friends, there is always that Mamba mode, ready to engage.
Being like Kobe was never about the fade aways, the pump fakes, dunks or acrobatic layups. It was always about the desire to be excellent and endless defiance against the norm. It was about that unbelievable belief in oneself that we could get things done through hard work and deidcation. In school. At work. When playing Monopoly. In the basketball court. Everything.
Kobe wasn’t everyone’s hero, but he was, at one point in our lives, a teacher. Not all teachers are well-liked by students, but they are respected. Kobe earned our respect. His Mamba Mentality was something all of us wanted to emulate. He was the best kind of teacher since he taught by example. Now, our teacher is gone. That’s what hurts the most.
Kobe wasn’t as athletic as LeBron nor was he as innately talented as Jordan. But he pulled people towards him, whether they were a fan or a hater, because of his incredible work ethic. His Mamba Mentality. It was this mindset which made him both special and human at the same time. He was a flawed human being, but he was also one of the best in the game. He was perfectly imperfect.
Kobe is gone, but his lessons still lives on in each and every one of us. It’s up to us now to continue his legacy by showing his Mamba Mentality in everything that we do. That’s something everyone can all unite on, forever.