Heartbreaking news surfaced on Sunday of the passing of Kobe & Gianna Bryant, amongst others, in a helicopter crash in L.A.
It was horrific news and difficult to fathom from the get go. Not only the innocent lives that were lost, but the lives that were cut short.
Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020. Here’s some of the many things the Black Mamba will be remembered for over the course of his lifetime.
Paving the way towards the NBA as a teenager
Nowadays, the standing rule in the NBA is that a player must be one year removed from high-school to be drafted to the league. It was a rule introduced in 2005 and has stood since, despite rumours league brass may reverse it.
Kobe was drafted in 1996 off the back of some stellar years playing at Lower Merion in Philadelphia. He made his way to Los Angeles via a trade with the Charlotte Bobcats at the time. During the 1996-1997 season, Kobe made his debut, becoming the youngest player to every play in the NBA at the time.
While he played mostly a sixth-man role in his first two seasons – Bryant’s success early on in his career paved the way for other draftees to make the jump straight out of high school. Players like Tracy McGrady and LeBron James thereafter reaped the rewards of Kobe’s success story.
Setting an example for younger players to become ‘the guy’
When rookies or younger athletes enter the league, a lot of weight can be placed on their shoulders. People have high expectations for certain players to be ‘the guy’ in their squad – putting the team on their back in pivotal moments.
Kobe’s early years in the NBA were a prime example of how to make the right steps towards that. In his rookie year, the Lakers found themselves in the Western Conference semi-finals with a plethora of injuries. Kobe’s role became elevated as players left the floor. He went from a key bench piece – to taking clutch shots down the stretch in Game 5, although it wasn’t enough for them to advance.
Throughout his early Laker days, Kobe played with the most dominant big man in basketball, Shaquille O’Neal. However, in his second and third championship wins in particular, it was Kobe’s poise late in games that carried them to victory. He’ll forever be remembered for the fearlessness he showed in those years – and the example he set for younger players to not be afraid to put the team on their back.
For having one of the most worn jerseys of any athlete in history
Growing up in Ireland, it was quite rare to see someone walk the streets in an NBA jersey. Taking into account how difficult it was to watch a foreign sport as such, or to get a jersey from America. It was a much simpler time.
One jersey that popped up quite regularly, however, was Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jersey. It wasn’t unusual to see someone don the purple and gold at practice in other sports such as soccer or gaelic football, or simply for it be a part of someone’s jersey collection. Everyone saw a Kobe Bryant jersey being worn at some point in the early 2000s.
It’s really a testament to his influence on younger people – that a league that seemed so foreign to most – had a player that was worn almost as much as some players for Man Utd. Kids gravitated towards Kobe in a way very few could. His jersey being worn so often is a prime example of that.
For winning championships in two different basketball eras
Many will remember Kobe for his five championship rings. His titles came in two stints – 1999-2002, and 2009-2010. It’s very rare to see an athlete win titles ten years apart – but not uncharacteristic when discussing a competitor like Kobe Bryant.
His early years involved a dual star partnership with Shaquille O’Neal – that brought great success to an already decorated Lakers organisation. As with most teams following championship runs – the Lakers went through a rebuild in the years following Shaq’s departure. Kobe relished in his franchise role in these years.
The game of basketball had developed heavily in those years. The dominant big man was becoming more sparing – and great three point makers were slowly becoming important team pieces. Kobe’s relentlessness in keeping his game to an MVP standard brought the Lakers further success in 2009 and 2010. Very few players can say they dominated different eras of basketball. Kobe was one of those few.
For being the only player comparable to the greatest of all time
There is much discussion on a regular basis surrounding the ‘greatest of all time’ or the ‘goat’ in basketball. At the top of many people’s lists – is Michael Jordan. Jordan won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, one of the greatest basketball dynasties of any generation.
Jordan, in many ways, is placed on a pedestal high above every other player. This is for many reasons. His competitive nature, his infectious leadership, his flawless scoring and his ability to play through adversity. The only other player ever discussed in the same light is Kobe Bryant – as all those attributes can sum up Kobe just as well.
Reading Phil Jackson’s ‘Eleven Rings’, we’re given an insight into the Jordan/Bryant comparisons, primarily in their difference in approaches to leadership. But aside from that, there aren’t two players in the game that embodied what their franchise is as much as Jordan and Bryant. That’s something we may never see again.
Lastly, for introducing the ‘Mamba Mentality’ to a younger generation
Arguably, Kobe’s greatest influence is yet to be felt. While his life has been short-lived, his mentoring of younger players in the league will live on for generations. In recent years, he set his ‘Mamba Mentality’ challenges – daring players to step up and achieve lofty goals.
One of those goals set – was for Giannis Antetokounmpo – to win MVP. Giannis worked closely with Kobe to develop his game, and low and behold was an MVP recipient soon after. Through his Mamba Sports Academy – Kobe has set a path for younger athletes in all sports to thrive and succeed.
Even his younger Lakers compatriots in his final seasons – the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. These are players that have followed in his footsteps in elevating their games to All-Star levels over time after learning under his tutelage. He’s inspired countless sportsmen and sportswomen and will continue to do so for years to come.
It’s evident in the outpouring of emotion from players, coaches, fans and even casual sports watchers in the last day or two how much Kobe meant to people. If there’s anything to be drawn from this article – is that we can look back fondly on the impact that Kobe has had on so many lives, and continue to appreciate his positive influence on people around us.
Rest in Peace.