The basketball world is mourning the loss of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, 41, following the shocking news of his tragic death on Jan. 26 as a result of a helicopter crash. Eight other people died in the crash, including Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant.
The outpouring of love following the announcement of Kobe’s death speaks to the many connections he made around the league. Whether it be the fans he inspired or the players he influenced, everyone has their own Kobe story. For me, Kobe was a role model who, without ever knowing it, helped me overcome my performance anxiety and rediscover my love of basketball.
As a young teenager and aspiring athlete, I battled serious performance anxiety and perfectionism. Every missed shot was such a devastating blow that I began to suffer immense stress. The game began to lose its magic, and I was on the verge of giving it all up. But a quote from Kobe inspired me, rekindling my love of basketball and helping me overcome my mental blocks.
“If you miss the shot, you’ll still be here learning,” Bryant said in a 2013 interview. “You’ve been in moments where you missed a shot, but you’re okay [….] What you have to understand is that those pressures are self inflicted [….] You have to be able to control your mind and understand […] that pressure does not exist [….] We create pressure ourselves.”
Kobe introduced an entire generation of young athletes to the idea of sport as a mental game, which he called “Mamba Mentality.” And even beyond the court, combined with Kobe’s tireless work ethic and perseverance, this mindset inspired individuals from all walks of life to overcome their toughest challenges.
And yet, one serious decision marked Kobe’s life, for, in a City of Angels, he was not one. In 2003, Kobe was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman, and he admitted to cheating on his wife, Vanessa.
But Kobe’s legacy challenges our understanding of whether someone is capable of redemption. Kobe’s growth as a human—famously symbolized by his switch from number eight to 24—was increasingly evident on the basketball court in his later years and in retirement. He was an extremely proud father of four girls, with whom he joyously shared the game of basketball. He also became an avid supporter of the WNBA, in which he hoped to see Gianna play one day, and an Oscar-winning storyteller.
The question that then remains is what legacy will Kobe leave behind? By what narrative will his six-month old daughter and namesake, Capri Kobe Bryant, know her father? The answer, as with the stories, will be informed by a multitude of personal experiences. To me, mixed somewhere alongside all the good and the bad, the answer is this: Kobe loved the game I love, more than anyone else. This love drove his singular pursuit of excellence, it informed the Mamba Mentality, and it is the reason Kobe touched the lives of more people than he could ever know.
As was poetically demonstrated by Kobe’s final public words the night prior to his death, in which he congratulated the Laker’s new star LeBron James on passing him on the all-time scoring list, the game will move forward. And yet, because of his unmatched love of the game, every time a kid shouts his name while shooting a balled up piece of paper into the recycling bin, Kobe’s legacy will forever live on as an integral part of basketball.