On the 26th of January, Lakers fans, basketball fans, sports fanatics and even those who do not engage with sports were overcome with an immense sense of shock and grief. The lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant had been stripped away from them prematurely.
It is a testament to Kobe’s character that ardent basketball fans as well as those who do not follow the sport were both showering him with tributes across the globe. For the young three year old in Philadelphia who took up basketball with the dream of playing for the LA Lakers one day, little did he know he would become one of the greatest players to ever adorn the Lakers’ colours and that his number 24 jersey would go down in the history books of both the Los Angeles franchise and the NBA as a whole. Many aspiring basketballers grew up idolizing players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but in Kobe’s own words he, “did not want to be the next Michael Jordan.” He “only want(ed) to Kobe Bryant.”
This in itself is a great lesson he bestowed upon his supporters. In an era when idolization of role models in sport has reached its peak, it need not be said how many youngsters try to mimic the styles of their icons, there is an unquenched thirst of longing to be as good as an incumbent legend in the sport and with it comes the need for comparison. Kobe urged his followers to be themselves both on and off the court and to use their own performances as benchmarks for the future. In this day and age there is an unprecedented level of fear of failure in a sporting world that has reached heightened levels of competition. Aspiring athletes shy away from difficult tasks due to this fear of failing, but as Kobe rightly stated, “If you are afraid to fail, then you are probably going to fail.”
For those like myself who do not follow basketball closely, our association of the game was strongly intertwined with our recognition of the feats of two basketballers who are true ambassadors of the game- Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Whilst they were rivals on the court throughout Kobe’s career, they remained the best of friends off-court and their “broship” stood out through their appreciation of the hard work shown and rewards reaped by the other. The world of sport today is very competitive which often leads to unhealthy competition and a certain degree of selfishness – with players wanting to stand out above the rest and even engaging in corrupt practices like doping and match-fixing to gain an advantage. Genuine, heartfelt appreciation of your rivals’ efforts is a rare occurrence nowadays, but the sportsmanship of Kobe Bryant is highlighted in what would end up being his last post on social media: “Continue to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother…” In this tweet, Kobe was not celebrating one of his own accomplishments, but instead was celebrating the achievements of his former on-field rival and best friend, Lebron James.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy and the Mamba Mentality he pushed for in everyone which highlighted the importance of sustained hard work and perseverance will be cherished and referred to across all circles of life. Among the many lessons Kobe taught us, there is one thing he highlighted that presents the harsh reality of life and that we were all awakened to on the 26th of January. As Kobe stated, “Life is too short to sit around and hold grudges. It doesn’t make any sense to do it.” After Kobe and his beloved daughter Gianna were taken away from us on that fateful day, even if we are not able to follow through on most of his advice and lessons, let us at the very least acknowledge the last aforementioned wisdom. Here’s to you Kobe and Gianna, may the Mamba Mentality and Kobe legacy live on forever.