Column: Kobe Bryant is gone, but his legacy will live on forever

NBA legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday

James Rapien
January 26, 2020 - 11:58 pm
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 18: Kobe Bryant walk out to center court during his jersey retirement ceremony at halftime of a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on December 18, 2017 in Los Angeles,

Harry How — Getty Images

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Kobe Bryant is dead.

Those are four words that so many people, including myself, are trying to process.

When the news broke on Sunday afternoon, I froze — hoping and praying that it wasn’t true.  

Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. He dazzled fans, teammates and opponents for 20 years in the NBA. He won five championships, two gold medals, was named league MVP and became one of the most accomplished players to ever walk on a basketball court.

He was a great player, but his legacy is about much more than the game.

Bryant was a motivator. He worked his tail off and put every ounce of his soul into being great. His hunger, fire and determination to be the best is something we all can emulate. It’s something everyone can strive for and hope to achieve.

Bryant’s been interviewed thousands of times and is known for plenty of motivational quotes, but something he said in his documentary ‘Kobe Bryant’s Muse’ has stuck with me from the moment I watched it.

“We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be.”

Bryant didn’t only say those words — he lived them. His drive was unmatched. He had failures. He had low points in his life, but he never stayed down. He always found a way to bounce back. 

There are plenty of stories about Bryant waking up at 3:30 a.m. to get a two-hour workout during the offseason. He’d repeat that again later that morning and again in the evening in hopes of achieving greatness.

Kobe was tough on his teammates. He wanted to play with guys that wanted to achieve greatness just as bad as him. 

Bryant was notorious for reaching out to successful people in all walks of life. He would pick the brains of thriving businessmen and women. He’d reach out to accomplished movie directors and producers to discuss their path to greatness. He didn’t leave any stone unturned — both on and off the basketball court.

Bryant pursued excellence every single day. The ‘Mamba Mentality’ was his brand, but it was also true. It was something he lived by and practiced daily. He was willing to do any and everything it took to be the best.

Bryant’s legacy is about much more than basketball. Look at all of the lives he touched during his 41 years on this earth.

Millions and millions of people are struggling to comprehend this tragedy. It’s about so much more than the game-winning shots, NBA Titles or All-Star appearances.

So many people are mourning Bryant’s death and will continue to do so in the days, months and years ahead.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also passed away in the helicopter crash that killed nine people on Sunday in Calabasas, California.

Many have and will continue to shed tears for the Bryant family and the other families that lost someone in the accident.

It’s OK to cry or to be angry and wonder why something like this could happen? How did this happen? Not only to Bryant, but to his daughter and seven others.

It's a question that no one can answer, which makes the grieving process even more difficult.

Kobe was a role model. He had high expectations of himself and delivered much more than he failed.

Bryant entered the NBA in 1996. Most basketball fans, including myself, watched him grow from an 18-year-old kid, into a dedicated father, husband and champion.

Some of my first NBA memories are watching Bryant play on a pushbutton television at my grandparents’ house. I remember collecting cans of ‘Sprite’ that featured Bryant and other stars on it in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

There is a print of Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James all together above my desk at home.

I have so many memories of Kobe. From alley-oops to Shaq and game wrecking dunks early in his basketball journey, to the patented fadeaway jumper, his post-up game and the killer instinct he developed throughout his career.

Bryant was the G.O.A.T. of his generation. If you’re 30-years-old or younger, you don’t remember Michael Jordan’s rise. Bryant was your Jordan. His mentality, his work ethic and his desire to be the best were second to none.

I went to see Kobe play during his final season at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Bryant was no longer the player that could dominate an entire game, but he scored 10-points in less than two minutes in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a chance to win the game.

That was Bryant. That was the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ Los Angeles had no business winning that game. Kobe struggled from the field for most of the night. Things changed when the game was on the line. Even in his twilight, Bryant flashed his greatness.

We got to spend some time with one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball this evening. #KobeBryant #TheBlackMamba #Lakers #Vino

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That brings me to Saturday night. LeBron passed Kobe for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644,” Bryant tweeted.

During his playing days, Kobe willing to run through anyone that would get in his way of being the best. He was focused on himself and becoming the best player to ever play.

His vision changed has he grew older. He became aware of the impact he could have on young basketball players. He began to see the bigger picture. That’s why there are so many current NBA players mourning Bryant’s death. He was more than just a great athlete. He worked with so many athletes, gave them advice and worked out with them in the offseason. 

Mamba is their idol. 

Kobe’s legacy was about much more than five championships, 18 All-Star appearances, MVP trophies or scoring titles.

Bryant impacted multiple generations that included some of the best basketball players ever — including James, who told multiple stories about Kobe on Saturday night after passing him on the all-time scoring list.

The ‘Black Mamba’ is a legend. He’s an icon that helped shape the lives of so many athletes — both male and female. That inspiration will continue, even after Sunday's tragedy. 

Kobe Bryant is gone, but his legacy will live on forever.