Kobe Bryant changed the fandom of the NBA for the better

Lights illuminate the jerseys in tribute of Kobe Bryant (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Lights illuminate the jerseys in tribute of Kobe Bryant (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Taking a close look at how Kobe Bryant changed fandom in the NBA for the better

In the days since the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, social media has been filled with tributes, memories, and stories of the all-time great.

Kobe Bryant was a transcendent star who had fans all over the globe. There is a very common phrase you hear out there “these people aren’t Laker fans, they are Kobe fans.”

That is true; Kobe has a global army of fans who are willing to argue any tiny detail of the all-time great’s legacy. About how he was the most clutch player to suit up in the purple and gold. How LeBron James is lucky he never had to face Kobe in the Finals.

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One of Kobe’s biggest gifts to basketball besides the records and the rings was he made it cool to root for players who didn’t play for your team. To unashamedly sport a jersey of a player who competes halfway across the country or even the world.

Shaq may have ruled the 1990s as a pop culture icon, using his charm and popularity to become a rapper and a movie star in addition to being the dominant big man in the league. Michael Jordan is obviously the greatest of all-time and always had all eyes on him. These were still guys you liked while you rooted for your team.

In today’s NBA with fans under the age of 30, you are seeing less of “my team” and more of “my guys”

Shaquille O’Neal was the base level of you rooted for him in addition to your team.

Kobe took that ability and ascended beyond that to a super Saiyan level power. To attract a millennial fan base looking for someone to believe in. In today’s culture, we are seeing more and more of a die-hard devotion not to teams but to players.

JR Smith once poked fun at Rihanna’s obsession with LeBron saying she was not a Heat fan. She was a “where he at fan.”

We have made the triple-double a national obsession because Rusell Westbrook fans need to justify his post-Kevin Durant legacy. JJ Reddick has a legion of Duke loyalist checking his box score every night to see how many 3’s he made. This is the impact Kobe had, he flipped fandom upside down and gave it to the players.

There are still fans of specific teams out there but any true NBA fan has more than a few jerseys of teams they don’t root for. A nice sewn on swingman jersey of a player they just like because of their game or their style or just their persona.

The NBA is a league of stars who don’t wear caps or are hidden behind a helmet. They are on full display night after night. Doing gravity-defying leaps and sinking almost impossible to recreate jumpers.

In the age of social media with an almost instantaneous availability of video across various platforms. You can see your favorite players highlights anywhere in the world milliseconds after they happen. Anytime you saw Kobe Bryant trending you knew you had to see what he was doing because you never knew what you were going to get.

If you walk into any middle school in America you will see No. 24 jerseys scattered about. How many of these 12-year-olds on the East Coast you think are staying up to 10:30 p.m. to watch Kobe. Not many but they know what the Mamba Mentality is and they are all in.

Kobe’s jersey was always one of the top sellers. If he wasn’t number one he was usually in second to LeBron James. A player that Kobe helped pave the fan to player devotion era. Every time LeBron finds a new team they become the most popular team in the league. The King can thank the Mamba for that.

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Kobe changed the landscape of the NBA and his style of play clicked with an audience. He became a mythical creature capable of doing the impossible all in the name of winning. Kobe Bryant was a hero to many, his legend will remain in the hearts of fans for generations because heroes never die.