What it meant to grow up with Kobe Bryant

I started watching the NBA when I was eight years old and although I didn’t understand it completely at the time, I have always been fascinated by the feats and abilities of the superstars in the league. Such as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, but one stood out among the rest for me: Kobe Bryant.

Bryant was a man that seemed to always be in a league of his own. He was a man who inspired those watching at home to work harder, as well as his teammates and even his opponents, to match the mentality he had for the game of basketball. That mentality came to define him not only as an athlete, but as a person. The “Mamba Mentality” as he came to define it. 

His drive to be better every single day is a trait that almost all of us strive to incorporate in our lives. The mark that Bryant left on the world extends further than just basketball, he was an icon of a generation. He had just started to experience life for all it had. His life was dedicated to basketball and once he retired he was free to experience more of what life had to offer. He opened a sports facility called Mamba Academy, originally meant for women’s basketball players, but it is now open to many other young athletes. Bryant published a book about how he approached basketball in 2018, he made a podcast, film shorts, a documentary about his career; so many things that he didn’t have time for while playing basketball. And just like that, it’s all left as a legacy. 

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports/TNS Kobe Bryant is pictured with his daughter Gianna at the WNBA All Star Game on July 27, 2019, at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

Bryant had four daughters ages 17, 13, 3 and 7 months. Thirteen-year-old Gianna, who wanted to play for the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team, also died in the fatal helicopter crash. I believe that she will be a symbol for women’s basketball for years to come. UConn honored Gianna by displaying a jersey with her number on it at a women’s basketball game. Through the memory of both Bryant and his daughter, the sport will grow more than it ever has. 

Some people watched Bryant from his first game in the NBA to his last. They saw Kobe grow in the sport, whereas my generation grew up with Kobe. We evolved as he did. We all saw the 81 point game, the free throws on a torn Achilles, the miraculous 60 point final game before his retirement and we saw him leave the game of basketball better than when he arrived.

When Bryant left the court I knew I would never see another player like that grace an NBA arena. I know there may be some that come close, but there will never be a player that had the same competitive caliber, the same drive and the same mentality as Bryant. We were and still are grateful to be able to witness just a part of the legendary career of the Black Mamba.

When the news broke on Jan. 26, it didn’t feel real. When I heard it, I assumed it to be one of the fake death hoaxes. Once I realized that it was real, it felt like I had lost someone I had grown up with.

I was excited to see Gianna’s career blossom just like Kobe’s had and I wanted to see her follow in her father’s footsteps. 

I know that I, along with millions of people, will never forget the legend that was Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Rest in peace Kobe and Gianna Bryant.