“Kobe Bryant died!!!!” Is what I can hear loudly from my friend’s phone being yelled by his wife from across the living room. His face looked slightly confused and said, “What?” in a low tone, and then she repeated, “KOBE BRYANT DIED IN A HELICOPTER CRASH!!!”
My friend and I looked at each other for a moment. We then instantly went to our phones for more information in hopes that this was a false story made up by the Russians. Still, a harsh truth revealed: Former NBA All-Star Future First Ballot Hall Of Famer Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 8 others.
In the beginning, Kobe Bryant was not the chosen one. He didn’t have a controversial yet relatable story like fellow 1996 Draft No.1 pick classmate Allen Iverson, who ‘s rebellious nature was an embodiment of Hip Hop with a Wu-Tang Clan attire of cornrows and baggy clothes. He(Kobe) lacked the smoothness of Ray Allen, who starred as Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s film He Got Game. Kobe Bryant appeared like an overconfident square, who dared to do what only a small few had done before him, which was to skip college and go straight to the league in hopes of being greater than Michael Jordan(whom I hated). Kobe’s presumed arrogance only added fuel to his dislike when he took then 90s R&B TV star Brandy to prom. “Who does this dude think he is?!!, is what most of us at the time thought.
Kobe’s attempt at being “Cool” like making a Rap album was laughable and entirely overshadowed by his LA Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal who larger-than-life personality only matched by his actual 7’1 300 plus pound stature. Shaq, rapped with the Notorious BIG, starred in movies and played a dominant style of basketball that was considered his own vs. Kobe, who critics viewed as a Michael Jordan wannabe.
My hatred for Kobe public persona wouldn’t allow room to appreciate his first championship run, hence why I took ultimate satisfaction when my hometown 2004 Detroit Pistons ended the L.A. Lakers reign. The aftermath effect was Kobe’s then wholesome image tainted from a rape case while allegedly snitching on Shaq, causing him(Shaq) to leave the team, and the Lakers were now losers who could barely make the playoffs. I myself like most people outside of Laker fandom, thought his best professional years were behind him and would have a better chance of seeing pigs fly while wearing Jordans than to see Kobe win another ring without Shaq. Even still, his success at the time would be beyond ok for most players, but not Kobe, hence where my views begin to evolve.
Kobe kept coming. Now branded himself as an Underdog, he seemed fueled with a strong sense of leadership and work ethic. He appeared to stop trying to impress the masses or “be kool” to pop culture. He began to seem comfortable with his skin. He wouldn’t drop a whack rap album or wear clothes that we all liked. Kobe developed a different type a coolness, one that made up of a vigorous work ethic, ability to win, and an undeniable obsessive urge to be the best. Kobe Bryant became unapologetic in his winning of championships while kissing his daughters and wife on the sidelines.
The Los Angelas Lakers back to back 2009-2010 championship run are when not only did I begin to respect Kobe Bryant but realized the error in my past judgment. Like most teens, I was echoing the thoughts and word of the adults around me who frown upon black celebrities who did not appear humble. Black generations before me had often viewed the overconfident American negro as a threat to themselves because they risk the danger of potential harm coming their way. Only in hindsight was I able to see that Kobe Bryant represented an era that was not only going to capitalize on opportunities made possible from past sacrifices but had no interest in asking for anyone’s permission.
Post-retirement Kobe appeared to take the same confident approach by walking a different path from most athletes who traditionally become coaches, broadcasters, or at a minimum, accept an office position with their former team. Kobe had other plans that included winning an Academy Award for his short animation film Dear Basketball and coaching his daughter “GiGi” in the sport that he loved since childhood. His past accomplishments were tremendous, but his next stage had the potential to be stellar.
I won’t claim to understand death. Faith believers will tell you that its all in God’s plans while Hotep conspiracist will deliver their take with Illuminati tweets. What can be said is that I and others have still yet to process last year’s death of Nipsey Hussle, so to think of a world where Kobe Bryant, age 41, is no longer with us is beyond my comprehension. His death is a reminder that life can be cruel, while his Black Mamba legacy is never to accept someone else’s limitations of yourself and that excellence is when one masters the art of hard work.