To some you were just an athlete. To some you were among the greatest and most iconic players to ever touch a basketball. While you had countless nicknames and titles, whether it be league MVP or NBA champion, to me you your greatest title of all was a hero.
As a seven-year-old child, I didn’t have a favorite superhero. I didn’t care about Batman, Superman, or any type of fictitious character. That void was filled after I turned on a Lakers vs. Kings game. A young man wearing number eight instantly caught my attention. I had no idea it was possible for a human to fly, but then I saw him slam a basketball with ease and ferocity, like I had never seen. Oh, and just in case you didn’t know, I’m referring to you, Kobe “Bean” Bryant.
I wanted to be you. I began playing basketball shortly after watching that game. After beginning that journey, my grandfather put a basketball goal on the garage for me to play on. For countless hours and days, I pretended that we were both Lakers, that I could dunk, I was hitting game-winning shots, and that we brought countless championships back home to Los Angeles. You created an opportunity for me to escape one of the most mentally traumatic eras of my life, traveling from a neighborhood in Metro Atlanta to the glitz and glamour of playing in the Staples Center.
While your accolades are some of the most impressive and extensive in NBA history, you always meant more to me. Sure, dropping 81 points in a game is cool. I guess winning five NBA championships and being named league MVP was pretty cool too. However, the fact that you were my hero always meant so much more to me. When I stayed at my aunt’s house on the weekends, my walls were plastered with posters and magazine cut outs of you. I watched you on ESPN and was proud to tell everyone that Kobe Bryant was my hero.
Perhaps the biggest legacy you left with me was adopting the “Mamba Mentality,” which is the relentless pursuit to be great at whatever you do. That was bigger than basketball and applied to all facets of life. Whether it be a job, school, or parenthood, be great at it and do it to the fullest. I will carry that around with me for the rest of my life.
My hero, life and sports will never be the same for me. I know you and Gianna are in a better place now, and I want you to know that your impact will last for eternity. You gave a kid like me, and millions of others a desire to live, compete and be great. The memories that you created will last in the hearts of me and basketball fans all over the world.
Not all heroes wear capes. As a matter of fact, mine wore the numbers eight and 24, with the name “Bryant” above them. You said it when you dropped 60 points in your final game, but I guess it’s truly, “Mamba out.” Thanks for everything, my hero, Kobe Bryant.