To say Kobe Bryant had an impact on me is a vast understatement.
Like many, I grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant. It wasn’t the flashy dunks, the extreme athleticism or the overflow of talent that drew me to him. It was the fact he started out as a talented kid that got overlooked by so many, and worked every day of his basketball career making them regret passing him over.
Unlike Jordan before him or James after, Kobe wasn’t a top 10 pick. Heck, the team that picked him didn’t even keep him. Despite being one of the best high school talents, he came off the bench his rookie year and only played bench minutes. As a rising star, people had begun boxing him in. As one of my earliest influences, the Idiot’s Guide to Basketball, put it, Kobe was, at best, the ideal 6th man, not shooting guard, not scorer, 6th man.
To me, the legend of Kobe Bryant started one December morning while we were at our old store in Divisoria. “Tony Commercial” a small space along M. De Santos Street around Divisoria mall, ran by my dad named, you guessed it, Tony.
It was a relatively slow day; it was one of the few times we got to use the TV in the store. A huge box with tubes already on their last legs. Somehow we got to see an NBA game that day, Lakers against Mavs. By then I was already rooting for the Lakers. By the end of the first half I was already in despair with the Lakers down 31. If the game sounds familiar, then you’re right. This was the game Kobe scored 21 in order to bring the Lakers back and win the game.
My young mind took in the image of this supposed to be 6th man, supposed to be back up player, leading the charge, leaving it all on the floor and willing his team to victory using what supposedly “limited” tools he had.
As early as then I could already hear the criticism against him, how he was only playing second fiddle, how he didn’t have the size, skill and leadership to succeed. Maybe he was always best fit to be plan B in the offense of any team he played in. But goddam he was the best plan B there could be and he made damn sure of it.
It was Albert Camus who said, “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better,” and boy did Kobe make the most of his freedom. As a young player, he allowed himself to be limited, guided by his coaches, seniors and teammates. Slowly he gained his freedom from their guidance and expectations and exploded on the league with unparalleled scoring feats.
It was at this time that his legend began to grow. Stories of training before the break of dawn, holding teammates accountable during practice, making sure they were giving the same dedication to the game that he was started to add to the mythology that is Kobe. He made the daily grind glamorous, he made putting in the work look cool, he gave us all front row seats to his method to greatness.
But he faced yet another prison, his body. Battered and abused he was running a race against Father Time. It was only a matter of time before his body gave out on him. When his Achilles tendon tore, it marked the beginning of the end of his playing years.
Kobe was nothing if not defiant. A defiance I personally looked up to. Double-team? Triple-team? Quadruple-team? Falling out of bounds? Never tell him the odds, Kobe was going to find a way to score regardless. So if there was anyone who could rehab the heck out of a torn Achilles, it would have to be him.
Sadly, not every shot is a make. Kobe was never the same after that game. Watching him struggle to adjust to his new body was painful. When he decided to hang it up after scoring 60, it became a relief. For Kobe, it was yet again freedom, and Kobe loved to make the most of his freedom.
With his retirement came freedom from the court, freedom from the limitations that his battered up body forced upon him. So he continued getting better and began making an impact outside the court. He lent his vision, his passion to the makers of art and with them created masterpieces.
When he left the hardwood, it felt like we were going to get Kobe Bryant all over again, slowly taking steps as an artist, a presenter, an ambassador of the game. The Oscar for his short? That was just the start of things to come. He was at a point where he had all the tools he needed and knew how to get where he wanted so that there was nothing that he couldn’t work toward.
I wanted that. I wanted to share that attitude, that ability to work my way through anything. To believe I deserved success and that I could achieve it through my own hands. That’s what Kobe did to me. He convinced me that I was in control of my own fate, and I was going to use that control to meet him someday.
It was because of him that I took jobs out of passion, that I sacrificed free time to hone my craft, that I toughed out bad times. He showed it could be done, he showed how it could be done. Mamba Mentality. It became the dream to apply this Mamba Mentality and someday reach his stature but in my field, to make the same contributions to basketball, to the world that he has. I wanted to someday meet him, shake his hand as a colleague or maybe even just a fan, and thank him for making hard work look… fun.
I was on my daily grind getting ready for work, restless, coming in and out of sleep, making sure I don’t miss my alarm while getting as much rest as I could. At 3:30 AM my alarm rang, and I began to see the news. As confirmations poured in my heart sank. Kobe Bryant, was gone. A person that has impacted a large part of me, though I have never met, was gone, just like that. Unlike his retirement, there was no warning, no build up to what happened. It all happened so fast that we couldn’t even bid him goodbye.
Just like the television set, the counter top and the store space where I first got hooked on Kobe’s greatness, he has physically left us now. But the contributions and experiences they brought shall live on forever.