I sit here writing this at 1:45 in the morning when I should be packing up my apartment for my next big move. It's been more than 24 hours since Kobe's tragic passing. It still feels unreal to me that a legend, icon and genuine human being who had such a high standing morally and ethically is gone. I'm still crying over this tragedy.
I unfortunately was never able to witness Kobe in person. I watched games constantly though as a kid. I'll never forget watching his final game when I was a senior in college, at Pawpurrs in Athens, Ohio. I cried when I realized that we would never see Kobe in a Lakers uniform again.
But it's what he did in his short retirement that does more. That impacts more. That is what he should be remembered for more than his stat line.
I got on YouTube and started watching Kobe on talk shows after his retirement; Kimmel, Fallon, Ellen etc. You could tell how passionate he was about his family, his daughters and his next step. Many of these talk shows would ask him basketball related questions, because how can you not? It's Kobe. However, it's his answers about the small details of the sport of basketball that really have me reflecting on the game.
I started dribbling a basketball when I was just 4 years old. It was a pretty instant attraction for me. I would spend time in my alley, shooting hoops with the guys on my block. I asked my dad to get us a hoop so I could shoot at the house. I asked my parents to help me better my game with camps and travel teams. I spent countless hours on the court, trying to find the jump shot I could never perfect.
I stopped playing when I was in high school for a combination of reasons. I had a back injury, some concussions and I had a coach who made me stop loving the game. So I found my love for writing and storytelling and wanting to highlight athletes and sports. It was through my newfound love of sports journalism that I found my love for the game again, but it wasn't for my initial reasons of love for basketball.
It was for something new. Something transcendent.
Basketball is one of the few sports that is a team sport and an individual sport at the same time. In football, you need all 11 guys to be at the right spot to get things right. However, in basketball, you need a full team to show teamwork and selflessness to get the ball to the right spot, the right guy, the right shooter.
And that right guy needs to be in the right physical, but more importantly, mental state to be great. That's what Kobe embodied. His accolades alone are immense. However, there are many people that have achieved something more or damn near close to it. It's his mental state that he had on the court that made him special. He had the right mind set. The Mamba Mentality.
That's something that you can only experience in basketball. Basketball is a sport that tests your mental strength more than anything else. You can miss one shot and be cold all night because of your mind being hung up on missing one shot. Or you can make one shot and go off for 40+ points because you got the confidence on that first field goal.
That's if you let that happen.
Then there's the defensive competitiveness that tests you mentally. That's what made me fall back in love with the game. I was never the biggest scorer. That was not my strength. However, my defense was what I would pride my game on. I was ferocious, tenacious, sometimes dirty, to stop someone from beating me. Those times I would get beat would force me even more to stop them the next time around.
I'm now on the sidelines as a professional, shooting or reporting on games and I would get all types of hype for a steal instead of a bucket. I remember what that feeling was like when I played. It's a subtle flex that can give you confidence. Or when I would see a block. There is no better feeling than seeing someone come at you with full confidence, wanting to get that two or three points, and you come out with the absolute stop, bringing that person to the floor and getting possession back.
It's a constant mental battle that only you can win. You can be hot all night and then get absolutely bodied. And you still have to find the inner strength to get down the court, forget what just happened and hit the shot. That's confidence that no person can teach you. No coach can help you with. No teammate can challenge you with. It's your own battle that you need to control, which takes an incredible amount of mental strength.
That growing confidence is not cockiness. It's not arrogance. It's the constant pursuit of wanting to get better, something that Kobe taught every time he stepped on the hardwood. Something that you can only find in the sport of basketball. I played other sports growing up, but nothing hit home for me like the court did.
Basketball saved my life. That sport, that discipline, that constant desire to grow, to better myself, to be a better teammate, everything that that sport encompasses. It saved my life. It was one of the few things that gave me confidence, because I saw the kind of confidence Kobe had on the hardwood. I wanted to emmulate that on and off the court. I try my best to do that now with my own personal life.
That is why sports matter. That is why I get beyond angry when I hear the statement, "Sports don't matter. They're just entertainment. Athletes are too glorified now. Just dribble. Just catch. Just throw. Just hit the ball."
The reason Kobe's loss is larger than many is because of the way he used a sport to teach a lesson. The way he used a jump shot to explain confidence. The way he used being blocked to explain getting up after a failure. The way he used an assist to show how to lift other people up. It was something so simple that taught absolute life lessons that if a parent, teacher, adult, family member, anyone further along in their age said, you would brush it off.
Thank you Kobe.
Thank you for showing that sports do matter. Thank you for showing what the sport of basketball can do for someone. Thank you for being a voice for the downtrodden. Thank you for being a pillar of hope for the city of LA. Thank you for your writings and Academy Award winning short film that just hits differently now. Thank you for impacting my generation to where we would yell "Kobe" after any shot. Thank you for being an inspiration to a little six year old Chicago girl who tried to hit a fader on the right wing. Thank you for the Mamba Mentality.
But most importantly, thank you for being an absolute hero for all people, across the world. Your legacy and legend will never be forgotten.
Because you never forget the teacher of life lessons.