Kobe Bryant: Seven Months On.

To say this is hard to write would be an understatement. It’s not often you feel sad over the death of someone you never knew personally, but this was different. Even now, seven months later, during the week of celebrating his life and legacy as organised by the NBA, LA Lakers and Nike: ‘Mamba Week’, it still hurts me to think about him.

I felt like I knew Kobe Bryant. I knew his date of birth and where he was born. I knew the names of his parents and his wife. I knew where he grew up in Italy, before moving back to Philadelphia. I knew where he went to high school. And I even knew the names of his four, beautiful daughters. That’s how much Kobe meant to me and to a lot of other adoring fans.

I’m a sports guy; I love my sports. One of the sports that I enjoy the most is basketball — and that is because of Kobe. I was barely a teenager, in my formative years where my personality started to shift a little from a young, innocent kid to a precocious, moody teenager who thought he knew everything. I always had an interest in basketball, but I wasn’t near as passionate as I am now. That all changed one day at school where, during a spare period, I picked up this little book about Kobe Bryant and his story. I hadn’t known too much about him other than that he was a player for the LA Lakers, he was really good and something about him being intrinsically connected to Michael Jordan. I thought, “Eh, I have time to kill, may as well give this a read.” I was enamoured by this man. His whole story of how he moved between the USA and Italy from a young age, how he was a high school phenom who got drafted into the NBA at 17, pairing up with Shaq to lead the Lakers to back-to-back-to-back titles enthralled me. I had to read more on this team, on this player.

I went home and scoured the internet for more information, learning about his obsessive work ethic, how he was the first to arrive and the last to leave practice. I found out about the Lakers and their storied history, learning to appreciate the greats like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. From this, I learned about the NBA and about basketball, the positions and strategies, the history and the folklore. I started to catch games on ESPN when they were showing, or check the internet each night after school to catch up on highlights and the stats. I picked up NBA 2K for my PS3 and became quite good (the best out of all of my friends). I even tried to play basketball for my local team, modelling myself on Kobe’s habits and style and declaring my dream to make it to the NBA and be drafted by the Lakers. Inevitably, it didn’t quite work out that way, but that didn’t dishearten nor tarnish my love for Kobe and the game.

The thing with Kobe was that he was a relentless competitor. He understood that in his business, in his line of work, it was about competition. To be successful in basketball — in any sport, rather — you had to compete against your opponent and win. There was no way around it. Kobe had one of those driven personality types, in that he was going to be the best at what he went for and he was going to work hard at it. There was to be no half-hearted efforts, not on his watch. So, he forged a career of relentlessness and the consistent pursuit of excellence, winning everything there was to be won, leaving no stone unturned on his way to glory. Learning about it, reading about it and eventually watching it, I was engrossed. I immediately placed Kobe among my fellow sporting heroes such as Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. I bought jerseys and became a student of the game — even if I’m short and can’t dribble with my left hand to save my life, it didn’t matter, Kobe was my guy and I was going to fanboy him if my life depended on it.

When he snapped his achilles in 2013, I was in shock. Watching that game, we were at the back end of the season and Kobe was playing over 45 minutes a game trying to will the Lakers into the playoffs. Against the Warriors, on that Saturday afternoon here in Melbourne, I was tuned in on ESPN cheering on my team and my guy to victory. Seeing him fall and clutch his calf, I feared the worst — but that wasn’t all. Despite the suspected achilles rupture, which scans later confirmed, he stood up and took his two free throws, before walking back to the locker room. I know for myself, if I ever snapped my achilles I’d ask for oxygen, morphine, endone, a Priest and a Bible. I’d try everything to draw the attention to myself and my pain. Kobe wasn’t built like that. For him, pain was a part of the process, welcoming the challenge to rehabbing himself and recovering from what is considered the most devastating injury for an athlete.

Though he was never quite the same after his injury, he still worked his ass off. Come his final season, the farewell tour he received and the adoration cemented his status as a legend. 60 points in his last game was icing on the cake, as we saw Kobe end that remarkable chapter of his life.

What came next was perhaps the greatest post-retirement of any athlete we’ve ever seen. Rather than do the expected: blow his money, be an analyst or coach and be rather tame compared to his raucous career, Kobe threw himself into his work as a writer and producer. He turned ‘Dear Basketball’, the short poem he wrote to announce his retirement, into an Oscar-winning short film. HE WON A FREAKING OSCAR! Not stopping there, he then went on to become a best-selling author of children’s books and his own autobiography ‘Mamba Mentality’. Kobe was producing movies, writing books and established himself as a venture capitalist, showing a business acumen like his idol, Michael Jordan. He also was a family man and a devoted father, coaching his girls in sports, with his second-oldest Gianna inheriting his basketball gifts. He was coaching her team, turning her and them into young, female stars. What a man.

That’s why, when I heard the news of his and Gianna’s sudden death in a helicopter crash, I shed some tears. I never knew him, but he made an impact on my life like few others. When I write, I think of him and how he drove himself into that profession after his playing career. When I workout, I push through the pain thinking of his immense work ethic. Heck, just before while I was working out, I pulled the ‘Mamba Face’ to get through a tough set.

Several months after his death, along with the others who tragically perished with him, we can truly see the legacy he has left for us all. Transcending basketball, he taught us the relentless drive to win and to strive for success at all costs. It didn’t matter what he did, or what he attempted, be it basketball, business, writing and creating; Kobe was all about the persistent pursuit of excellence. The impact his death left on everyone, basketball fans or not, basketball players or not, speaks volumes of the impact he made in his short life. I believe we can all honour him by working towards developing our own ‘Mamba Mentality’, that is, to push to be the best at whatever it is that you aspire to be in life.

Kobe, though we’ve slowly come to terms with your passing in the months since, you will always be in our hearts and minds. Thank you for the rings, the dunks, fadeaways, the never-say-die attitude. Thank you for 81 points, for never giving up, for giving back to the community and for teaching us all the virtues of hard work and dedication.

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