Remembering Kobe Bryant, two years after his unfortunate passing

Los Angeles Lakers (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Los Angeles Lakers (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

Remembering Kobe Bryant two years later. 

I remember getting the first message that it had happened.

It was from a group chat of my friends I had made playing basketball at my old school. Someone just sent “Kobe…”. I remember reading it, feeling confused why my friend would just send that message. Then I got a message from one of the group members, saying “dude, have you seen?”

Bewildered, I went onto Google and just typed “Kobe Bryant”…and then I found out.

Kobe Bryant had passed away, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others including the pilot.

I didn’t know what to think. I was in total disbelief at what had apparently happened. I then began frantically searching Twitter, trying to find anything that would explain what had happened, wishing that a credible source would say all these reports were false. Sadly, this source never revealed itself.

I spent the rest of the evening messaging people back and forth, reading reactions to the tragic news online and trying to make sense of what had happened. It seemed to me that there was something terribly wrong with the world, a glitch in the Matrix. How could Kobe, someone who had so much life about him, be gone?

When I woke up the next day I still couldn’t make sense of the situation. I got up, got dressed, and went to work like it was an ordinary Monday, only it wasn’t. On the London Underground, I saw people reading news articles about Kobe’s death. I saw it on newspaper front pages as I walked to the office and it was all people could talk about at my job. Even in the UK, a country where basketball isn’t a well-followed sport, Kobe’s death was on everyone’s lips.

My team knew I was big into basketball, so all day I was answering questions about him and it was clear that even though my colleagues didn’t know much about basketball, they all knew about Kobe.

As the day progressed, concentration on work was hard to come by. My mind was too busy thinking about Kobe’s legacy, what he had left behind for others to talk and comment about. I wasn’t a writer then, and still wasn’t a year later, but now I am and I want to communicate my perspective on Kobe’s passing and legacy from the eyes of someone not living in the USA.

I only started watching the NBA in late 2009, and I have to admit that after a few weeks of learning about it and who the current players were, I didn’t like Kobe. I was and still am a LeBron James fan, and 2009-10 was the height of the Kobe/LeBron rivalry. That was the biggest debate in the NBA at the time; who is better? Kobe or LeBron.

I remember being so frustrated, because even though LeBron was the one dunking on everyone and winning back-to-back MVPs, Kobe was the one winning titles, and titles were what mattered the most.

As my enthusiasm and knowledge for the NBA grew, I learned more and more about Kobe’s career. How he had gone from a scrappy teenager battling against Michael Jordan, to the most feared player in the world. How his relationship with Shaq had dented his legacy and how he had earned it back with Pau Gasol.

I saw him in his later years when his body began to break down and the Lakers weren’t competitive again. I saw him rupture his Achilles, and still make two free throws only one good leg. I saw him return to the court and obviously never be the same player again, but still give it his all, night after night. Anyone with any sense could have told you that Kobe was going to give us something special in his last game, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted he would score 60 points as well as hit the go-ahead shot with 31.6 seconds remaining.

Kobe went out the way he came in; giving everything he had to be successful.

Kobe after the NBA seemed like a bit of a puzzle to me. How could someone who had spent nearly their entire life playing basketball adapt to life without the game? It’s a problem a lot of professional athletes have. They are so focused on the sport, and then it disappears completely when they leave and they don’t know what to do with themselves.

Little did I know just how different Kobe Bryant was built. Instead of resting on his laurels and lying on a beach all day, Kobe got to work again with the same Mamba Mentality he had used in the NBA. He spent more time with his family, became his daughter’s basketball coach, and helped lead them to great success. He launched his own venture capital firm and even won an Oscar in 2017 with his animated short film, “Dear Basketball.”

It became obvious to anyone following Kobe that he wasn’t a basketball enthusiast, he was a life enthusiast. Carpe Diem is an overly used phrase these days, but Kobe Bryant really did seize the day and make it his own.

Listening to him give talks and interviews, Kobe just seemed so calm and grateful, someone who was completely at ease with where he was in life and accepting that although he couldn’t play in the NBA, he could still give 100 percent into other ventures.

The passing of Kobe hit the sports world very hard. I can’t think of another athlete’s death in recent memory having this big an effort on the world, but why is that? What was it about Kobe that made everyone respect him? I think I have the answer.

Kobe Bryant was an underdog.

This may seem foolish at first glance. How can Kobe, one of the greatest players in basketball history, be an underdog? Well, it all goes back to Michael Jordan. When Kobe first came into the league the comparisons between him and MJ were immediately made. Same position, same height, both very athletic and both very hard-working.

To be compared to the GOAT is a huge honor, but everyone already knew that while Kobe was compared to MJ, he would never pass him in terms of greatness, no matter what he did. MJ was more talented than Kobe and had better numbers, so no one was saying that Kobe was better or could pass MJ.

Kobe Bryant was doomed from the start to beat MJ, but he still played his heart out every game. That is why he was an underdog for his entire career, and why there is nobody that doesn’t respect him. Humanity always appreciates someone who gives their all, no matter if they aren’t successful. At every away game in his final season, it was packed with fans wanting to see Kobe one last time and to thank him for what he had given. Even in places like Boston and Philadelphia, everyone gave him a standing ovation, because they appreciated what Kobe had done.

Even abroad he was treated like royalty. Because he grew up in Italy, I think Europeans had a stronger connection with Kobe than other NBA stars. Kobe could speak Italian fluently and even learned Spanish so he could trash-talk Argentinians and Spaniards in Olympic matchups. Kobe was also incredibly popular in China, South Korea, and Japan and his legacy abroad has led me to believe that he was not only a great ambassador for the NBA and basketball, but he was also a great ambassador for the USA as a nation. Wherever he went, people loved him because they knew, just like fans at home, that Kobe was one of a kind.

Kobe is right up there with other sporting icons like Muhammed Ali, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Michael Jordan. There are countless hours of motivational videos of him to watch on the web and his work ethic is something that will influence millions of people for decades to come.

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We lost one of the greatest members of the human race two years ago, and even though the world was made much worse off, Kobe’s legacy in the US and across the world is a treasure that will shine forever.