By Travis Politakis
I didn’t want to believe it. It cannot be possible. How can a figure larger than life be taken so soon? All those thoughts ran across my head on Sunday, Jan. 26 when the news that basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were tragically killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. The Sunday afternoon tragedy gave me an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Kobe Bryant, and gave me an opportunity to reflect on life itself.
Kobe Bryant was a figure who seemed larger than life to me. Growing up in a household where all we watched was sports, Bryant was a prominent figure. He was the reason I became invested in the game of basketball.
Bryant came from humble beginnings, growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended Lower Merion High School, which is where his basketball career began to take center stage. Bryant was drafted straight out of high school by the Charlotte Hornets who shipped him off to the Los Angeles Lakers minutes after drafting him.
My earliest memory of Bryant was in the 2006 playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. In game four of the first round of the 2006 playoffs, Bryant had a performance that put six year-old me in awe. As time was expiring, Bryant made an incredible shot that sent the game into overtime. Then in overtime, Bryant proceeded to hit the buzzer beater to lift the Lakers over the Suns. What stuck out to me was what Bryant did before the shot. Bryant showed his hustle and dove for a loose ball, giving the Lakers possession and an opportunity for the last shot. It stuck out to me because it showed Bryant’s “never give up” attitude.
I still remember practicing that shot in the driveway with my dad and running around while the crowd goes crazy. Bryant was the gold-standard of the NBA. Bryant won five NBA championships, made eighteen all-star appearances, won MVP in 2008, a two time olympic gold medalist and was selected for the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2019. What’s most impressive about Bryant’s resume, is the fact that he played all 20 NBA seasons with one team. In today’s league, that is unheard of. Almost all stars including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard have played with multiple teams throughout their career.
Bryant helped make the NBA a global brand. You could go to any country and say, “Kobe,”and most people would understand. His first name became a universal language. Whether it would be someone shooting a basketball into a hoop, or a paper ball into the trash can, people would yell “Kobe” as they shoot in hopes of having his shooting skill.
One quality that made me and millions of others admire Bryant, was his mindset. Bryant was all about winning. He worked harder than any other player because of his love for the game and his addiction to winning. On a podcast with Barstool Sports in 2019, Bryant talked about his work ethic. Bryant used to stay in the gym after practice and play his teammates to 100.
“Practices are meant to be competitive,” said Bryant. “There are no days off. You show up every day, and you work. Practices are going to be worse, more competitive, and more physical than games. But when game seven of the NBA Finals comes around, you will be prepared.”
People adopted Bryant’s mentality and his work ethic, naming it `Mamba Mentality”. Mamba mentality can not only be applied to basketball, but to life. Everything you do whether it is work, sports, or family, you give it 110 percent every day. It is about attacking everyday and making the next day better than the previous day.
Bryant also talked about the importance of loving what you do. “If you love what you do and it is making you happy, all the hard work and perseverance will pay off. Your dreams are up to you,” said Bryant. This is something that inspired me to go to college and pursue sports journalism. With hard work, dreams can become reality.
Bryant was most proud of being a father. He was a father to four girls and a husband to Vanessa Bryant. People always tell Bryant that he needed to have a boy, but Bryant took pride in having all girls. “Girls are the best. I would have five more girls if I could. I am a girl dad,” said Bryant when talking to ESPN reporter Elle Duncan.
Bryant opened my eyes and made me realize that with hard work comes great reward. Life is a precious gift and can be changed in an instance. I am truly grateful for the legendary moments I have gotten to witness during Bryant’s career. Thank you Kobe for inspiring me to follow what I love.
Travis Politakis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org