By Kent Wong, February 6 2020 —
On Jan. 25, LeBron James scored his 33,644th point against the Philadelphia 76ers which put him above Kobe Bryant’s career record of 33,644 and putting him into third place as all-time scorer in the NBA. Before the game, James had written “Mamba 4 life” on his shoes that night. After the game, Bryant tweeted out to James, “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644,” with an added muscle-flexing emoji. This would be Bryant’s last tweet and his last address in public. The next morning, he and his daughter along with seven other people, many of whom were players and coaching staff on the Mamba girls’ basketball team, boarded a helicopter to head to a basketball tournament. Unfortunately, the fog that day was dire. The helicopter crashed in the hills of Calabasas and killed everyone on board. Bryant was 41 and his daughter Gianna was 13.
At the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, CA, a gymnasium full of parents and kids were patiently waiting. That day there would be none of the typical cheering, sneakers screeching on hardwood, the familiar smell of a basketball — and the sound of those nine individuals. Instead, parents and children took a knee and prayed in silence when they learned about the grave news. All games scheduled for that day were cancelled. Soon after, shock waves hit the world as news of the ill event was reported. Candlelight vigils were held. NBA games that day had their moment of silence, but the tributes did not stop there. Players took eight- and 24-second violations, in honor of Bryant’s jersey numbers, and everyone stood still. Crowds raised and cheered in remembrance of Bryant and the other victims. Bryant represented more than just the game of basketball, he represented dedication and hard work.
Bryant was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Italy as his father also played professionally in basketball. He then started his professional career when he was drafted in 1996. In the following years, he broke records and made accolades for himself. Despite his fame and excitement on the court, the Lakers were not able to materialize this success in playoffs. That would all change as Bryant helped carry his team to a three-peat from 1999 to 2002. Numerous records were broken, and many first times were had for the young Bryant leading to his first All-Star MVP trophy. He was now the youngest player to have ever won three championships in the NBA. He would go on to win two more championships until his retirement in 2016. This ushered in an era of basketball dominated by Bryant and he soon became the face of the game both domestically and internationally.
But the numbers and statistics mean little when it comes to the emotions he brought on and off the court. Bryant will most likely be remembered more for being one of the fiercest players and bringing indescribable energy into the buildings he played in. He admitted that he started to channel rage into his games as early as middle school. He harnessed this energy and personified it on his on-court persona, “The Black Mamba.” He envisioned himself like the snake itself, striking victims with surgical precision.
He would soon gain a reputation of the “Mamba stare” and his ferocious court presence, others would comment on his signature play style. Regardless if you hated or loved him, you had to respect the Mamba. As a role model and teammate, the Mamba pushed you past your limits. He channeled that frustration and rage as motivation. His dedication to his craft and unwavering focus was an inspiration for all, on or off the court. He may be gone, but his legacy and inspiration live on.
“Everything negative — pressure, challenges — is all an opportunity for me to rise” –Kobe Bryant