Sunday afternoon was one of those moments that years down the road I will remember where I was when I heard the news. I was walking out the back door of my aunt and uncle’s house that is being renovated. My cousin was down the steps. My aunt was describing where the pool was going and how the back yard would be set up. My uncle was looking at his phone. “Kobe Bryant died?”
“Huh?” I asked. I heard the words he said, but they weren’t comprehending.
“Are you sure?” my cousin asked.
I quickly do a Google search to see what media outlets were reporting it to see how valid the reports were. I was numb as I quickly read the different headlines. How is this possible? Was your family with you? Where were you going? You were a huge supporter for women’s basketball, this can’t be true. It’s, you, KOBE BRYANT!! You are supposed to live until forever. WE ARE THE SAME AGE!!! I feel like we grew up together! Your daughter was so good at basketball and was a rising star. You have to be here to help her go through the process!
All of those thoughts flashed through my head in the matter of seconds. As the day went on, I realize it is true. Tragic and true. And then it came out your daughter was with you. I was crushed. I will be honest, I used to not be a fan of yours. You were too cocky for me. You had every right to be. You were the greatest player of your time and arguably the greatest ever. I always respected your game. I just wasn’t a fan of the person.
As we both grew older, and we both matured, I realized it was exactly that. Some immaturity on both our parts. After your incident in Colorado, I saw you do something that so many people who are caught do NOT do. You owned his mistakes and did your best to fix your marriage. And you did it publicly. I do not know how your wife, Vanessa, did it. However, it seemed clear to you two were working together to stay with it.
As your career was on the tail end, I respected you even more. You were competing at the highest level and proving why you were so great. All of us in the basketball world know the stories of your work ethic. Your early morning workouts BEFORE practice. How you worked out AFTER practice. You were the first to arrive in the gym and the last to leave. That “Mamba Mentality” is what set you apart. After you blew your Achille’s tendon, I was rooting for you more than ever. I wanted to see that come back story. Many people though you should retire then. No. You still had something to prove. You had more winning to do. I’m sure you had days in your rehabilitation that were not winning days, yet you got back up and fought to keep climbing back. That is what I loved about you. Your fight to keep coming back every day to get better than the day before.
After you retired, we all saw you enjoying life even more as a father. There are several stories out there now that talk about how your girls changed your life. How being a father was more important to you than any trophy or accolade you ever received. I read one article that stated the reason you started using the helicopter in your playing days was because you wanted to cut your commute down in order to take your daughters to school AND pick them up. You were willing to do whatever it took, to be the best dad you could be to those girls and be the best husband to your wife. You were excited and proud to be a girl dad.
Your second oldest daughter, Gianna, took up a love for the game. I remember hearing on the summer circuit that you started coaching. I was excited at the thought of possibly running in to you at a tournament in the future. Then I saw you at women’s games. The Final Four. Wow. You are really supporting women’s basketball and your daughter! Then with your Mamba Academy you helped train several women's players such as Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu!!! WOW!! Your purpose in doing so was to help them get better and becoming the best they could be, teaching her and others that Mamba Mentality. I know those workouts were special. I can’t help but think the words that you spoke to those you trained were just as impactful, if not more, than the drills you put them through. If only I could have been a fly on that word to soak up the knowledge you passed on.
I text several of my friends, various ages, in and out of the basketball world, and asked them all the same question. “What is something about Kobe’s life that you think you could carryon?” The answers were heartbreaking yet encouraging. They all boiled down to two things: your work ethic and the type of father you were to your girls.
I hope you realized before Sunday how many people you influenced with your life on and off the basketball court. I have a new respect for you. I know we never even met, yet I feel like I lost a close friend. I cried like I lost a family member.
I am making a transition in my life right now, similar to you retiring from basketball (quite a different pay scale though) I have been struggling with some things and have recognized my work ethic isn’t quite exactly what it had been when I was coaching. You have given me a different spark. I want to be great. I will work to be great. I know it won’t be easy. I know not every day will be a win. However, I am going to work in my own way with to simulate your Mamba Mentality in my own life. Thank you for the example you have set for me and millions of others. You will be missed.
Sincerely, the fan you never met,
PS. On my vision board I created back in December, I have the number of books I wanted to read this year as well as the number of speaking engagements I am shooting for. The number….24.