I am a voracious reader.
It is one of the few things I have in common with Kobe Bryant, the late great NBA star who tragically died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California over the weekend along with his daughter Gianna Bryant — a rising basketball star herself — and seven others.
Being a voracious reader, I have read dozens of columns and opinion pieces before sitting down to write my own thoughts on the legacy of Bryant and wondered what I could possibly add to the amazing voices who have shared their stories.
What could I offer as someone who never interviewed Kobe and didn’t know him personally?
I realized what I could offer was the impact Kobe has had on my life, particularly when I was a child that loved basketball more than anything.
Kobe was my hero. I have played basketball since I was eight years old and he was the first role model I had that constantly spoke about the value of hard work — or the Mamba Mentality, as Kobe put it.
I was amazed by his footwork, his dedication, his passion and his take-no-prisoners attitude on the basketball court. Later in life, I was impressed by his composure, his love for his family and his obsessively philosophical interest in learning, reading, leadership and life.
I have nothing in common with Kobe physically, but I watched every step, thought about every move and tried to constantly will myself into being a better basketball player and person the way I saw Kobe fight for the same.
What those lessons from Kobe I learned as child have translated to is an adult conception of working as hard as you can, for as long as you can to achieve what you want.
Any time I sit at my computer to write, go to the gym to lift or sit down and relax with my family — I think about working hard the way Kobe did to better my mind, my body and my family.
He was an omnipresent influence on my life, and I couldn’t believe, and still don’t comprehend what happened. Kobe wasn’t supposed to die. Your childhood heroes are supposed to be immortal.
That is what is hard for me, I feel like a part of my own childhood went with Kobe. Obviously, that is nothing compared to the horrible pain each one of those victim’s families are going through and my heart breaks for all of them, but I think the communal pain being felt across the basketball world shows the impact Kobe had on so many.
He was transcendent and was more than basketball. The Mamba Mentality (also the name of his book) is an ethos shared by millions and is something that is deservedly being venerated.
The tireless quest for unattainable human perfection that Kobe was unwaveringly committed to is his greatest gift to humanity and will be remembered by basketball fans and anybody wanting to achieve more than they believe possible.
Kobe was accused of rape in 2003, but was acquitted when his accuser, a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee, chose not to testify. While that’s part of his story and ultimately part of his legacy, it’s not one I want to relitigate here.
What I do want to do is thank Kobe. Thank you Kobe for five championships, thank you for the memories of Kobe and Shaq, thank you for the MVP, thank you for 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, thank you for the 61 points in your final game, thank you for hitting two free throws after tearing your Achilles tendon — but most importantly — thank you for teaching me at a young age that hard work can lead you to the previously achievable success.