Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant gave life everything and deserves the utmost gratitude

(Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
(Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images) /

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant on Sunday morning, imparting thanks feels like a vast understatement.

What occurred on the morning of January 26, 2020, will forever mark one of the most tragic, unthinkable moments in sports history. Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant tragically left the face of the Earth due to a helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas, California. The same report revealed that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and several others died in the crash as well.

To this very moment, I still cannot wrap my mind around the gut-wrenching news. It is one of the saddest things I have ever heard in my life. Words like sad, though, do not even seem adequate enough when it comes to describing the natural emotions that I feel inside.

In all sincerity, it has been a robust challenge writing even these first few paragraphs. I would be fibbing if I said tears were not streaming down my cheeks, likewise causing my glasses to fog up. To know that my childhood hero, a guy whose high-octane level of play and passion seemed to suggest a tone of invincibility, is no longer with us.

Initially, I will concede I was in denial when I first caught wind of the news. My family got out of church and proceeded to have an early lunch at one of our favorite local diners. Not too far into the meal, my little sister said these exact words as she was looking intently at her cell phone: “I don’t know if you’re going to have an appetite after this.”

Glaring at her quizzically, my dad and I simultaneously wondered what was up. Once she spilled the beans, I cringed and my heart sank to the ground. I was like “wait, you’re kidding, right?!” She, alas, said “no” with a firm, yet somber inflection in her voice.

I immediately got up from my chair, left the restaurant, and soon started to cry on a bench that happened to be outside. I then looked at my phone, quickly pulled up Google, and, soon enough, saw it all for myself. The emotions continued to pour out like crazy.

Fairly recently, I listened to Mychal Thompson on the radio, who first discovered the news through John Ireland. Thompson revealed that he will never forget the words Ireland told him and the seriousness of his facial expression when the words were said. Like many of us, Thompson could not process what his ears had just absorbed.

I will be completely honest with respect to what is forthcoming. I never personally met the legendary Kobe Bryant. While I did not ever receive the opportunity, he was such an integral part of my life. The man was incredibly inspirational and he left an imprint that supersedes anything the Incredible Hulk could manage. Kobe was that incredible, indeed.

Gosh, where to even begin with regard to this global treasure. It is almost impossible to give a SparkNotes version of what this Lakers legend means to me.

Of course, when Bryant is thought about, it is fairly easy to think about his myriad accolades, which include five world championships and two Olympic gold medals. The dude was a bona fide winner in every sense of the term.

Los Angeles Lakers
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However, Kobe’s legacy extends well beyond how stacked his trophy shelf is. Certainly, it is a key component to consider, but should not be the only factor in the equation.

He transcended the game of basketball and impacted not only others who loved basketball, but so many people in general. Elements such as his relentless, competitive spirit to go along with a ridiculously high pain tolerance combined to form a guy that just did not even seem possible.

Frankly, there were many instances where I just looked at Kobe, whether it was in-person at a game or at home on my TV and I thought things like “how is he doing that?” Kobe was simply that exciting to watch. He knew how to get a crowd going, even when the Lakers were not playing at home.

Part of was used to amaze me about The Black Mamba was his consistency. Even supposing the fact that he was a superstar during his time in the NBA, he stood out from his peers. Night after night he brought everything he possibly could. Blood, sweat, and tears.

A primary ingredient as to how he set himself apart was his preparedness. Kobe always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else. His approach toward life would plausibly make UCLA legend John Wooden smile, for Wooden once said “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer shared a noteworthy example of Bryant’s work ethic in a recent piece he wrote.

Tjarks recollected that prior to the 2008 Olympics, Kobe’s younger teammates set their alarms for an 8 a.m. breakfast together. They soon saw Bryant, who was not sporting his PJs or anything of that nature. However, Kobe was sweating given that he had just spent three hours in the gym.

If that does not validate his work ethic, I don’t know what does. Many other stories along these lines surely exist, but it demonstrates how he was wired. He did not take his job lightly and it enabled him to be successful for quite a long time.

Alas, that same level of consistency is something I now wish I had not taken for granted. I wish I did not have such a negligent, lax mindset manifest itself within me as a younger lad. I will concede it just seemed to emerge because I knew what Kobe was going to bring to the table night after night. It helped establish an outstanding legacy that will forevermore stand the test of time.

The increment of memories that come to mind are incalculable. Laying them all out would require an attention to detail only he possessed, something he was likewise renowned for.

What I do know is this much. It seemed like the man was always, and I mean, always, on a mission. Certainly, as many Kobe fans recall, he said early on in his career that he wanted to be the best player that ever lived. To some folks, it seemed like a fanciful, imaginative notion at best, one that was far-fetched given the obvious magnitude of Michael Jordan’s status in the sports world.

Los Angeles Lakers
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It did not take too long to see that former Lakers general manager Jerry West made the right call trading for Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft. This scrawny teenager proved he was a much bigger talent than his size otherwise suggested. He meant serious business and was able to back up what some considered an arrogant, showy demeanor. He craved to be the best he could possibly be.

It is not to say he was impeccable, though. For example, Bryant’s several air balls in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz in 1997 served as an early test for the then youngster. Without a doubt, the Lower Merion High School product probably felt awful and deflated after such a sub-par performance.

However, unlike many, Kobe used that experience as a motivating force to improve. In lieu of dwelling on that specific night of misery, he utilized it to grow (literally I might add). The legendary player knew he had to come back stronger the following season to ensure the same thing would not transpire again.

Per Motez Bishara of CNN, Bryant’s upbringing also shaped the way his mind functioned. Growing up in Italy, the all-time great admitted after his retirement that other kids did not always accept him into their circles. To no surprise, the Lakers’ great used that as fuel to become something more.

"“It’s always been the outsider who is coming in to prove (something) or seek some kind of vengeance,” he added. “I always had ambition.”"

Terms like “vengeance” and “ambition” personified Bryant so perfectly. If anything, they suggest that he was of the breed that was purposeful and was never satisfied.

The latter is especially true. In terms of his career, the iconic figure was devastated (like anyone else) when the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals. It was so hard to accept provided the heated rivalry that built itself up over the years.

That being said, he made sure to not let history repeat itself. When L.A. faced them again two seasons later, KB24 got that vengeance against his team’s most hated enemy. While he did not shoot too well in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, his rebounding and playmaking helped carry the purple and gold to their 16th title. He gave everything he could to ensure his team was victorious.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

That particular game is merely one game among numerous ones that fans will never forget. Who could ever forget the game where he sank two free throws subsequent to rupturing his Achilles? His Achilles for crying out loud. That was basically the epitome of what he coined as “Mamba Mentality.”

Mind you that the shooting guard was already amid his 17th season at that point in time. The man already had a decorated career and some thought that maybe that was it for Bryant. The tenacious athlete had other ideas.

According to NBC Sports contributor Kurt Helin, for the Mamba to have slowed down then would have gone against everything he stood for. The 2008 NBA MVP wanted to do things his way instead of the conventional way.

"“Kobe was 34 when he tore his Achilles, he had five rings and a resume full of accolades, and he knew his career was winding down. He could have just walked away and nobody would have questioned it.That’s not Kobe — he was going to leave on his own terms. No injury would dictate the terms of the end of his career.”"

Moreover, the last NBA game he ever played in on April 13, 2016 is impossible to not remember as well. In the fourth stanza, Kobe was visibly tired and was literally gasping for air. In spite of that, he found this reserve tank inside of him and had a monstrous last few minutes for the Lakers. It was north of impressive and one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen anyone accomplish in any activity at any juncture.

After that amazing final hurrah, Bryant unhesitatingly turned his attention and efforts elsewhere. What is admirable, though, is that he did not take the route many retired athletes oftentimes opt for.

More often than not, retirees enjoy the opportunity to take a vacation or two and just flat out relax. It is not an unnatural thing by any stretch of the imagination. Suffice to say, No. 8/24 was built from a different fabric.

As if his brilliant 20-year basketball career was not enough, he continued to put in work. For example, he really started to develop a deep passion for storytelling. It was really cool to get a load of because in a relatively short time frame, people started to notice he excelled at this craft, too.

It defied the nagging stereotype that athletes are… well… just athletes. In his case, a guy who supposedly was “only” good at dribbling and swishing a ball into a net.

One book the workhorse compiled post his NBA career was entitled The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. It is a wonderful book that I have fortunately gotten the opportunity to read.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The composition chronicles Kobe’s spectacular career and how the man went about things day by day. Specifically, Kobe went into detail discussing what was a most maniacal mindset, to say the least.

There is a point in the piece where Bryant said that the mindset is more about the process involved as opposed to a certain result. He went on to say “it’s a way of life.”

Not too much later, the man happily noted that he appreciated anytime he heard the phrase. It made everything he did a worthwhile venture.

"“Whether I hear an elite college or NBA player or a Fortune 500 CEO reference the #MambaMentality, I find it very meaningful. When I see people talking about finding inspiration in this, it makes all of my hard work, all of the sweat, and all of the 3 AM wakeups worth it. That’s why I put together this book.”"

I again cannot stress how lucky I am to have read this work of Bryant’s. He is very open in terms of how he lived his life and did not hold back. It is generous that he spent so much time sharing his knowledge with the next generation of athletes or just anyone hoping to gain a glimpse of motivation.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN put forth another medium Kobe used to help others post retirement. He produced his own segment known as “Detail,” a series whose title is most appropriate.

“Detail” literally broke down specific sequences of what players did right and wrong during games. Sometimes, something as little as where someone’s feet were positioned while playing defense would be thoroughly dissected by the hard-working individual. He felt the need to do all he could to give his two cents.

Let alone through media, though, the Black Mamba took pride in working with players one-on-one. Notable NBA players he spent time with are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson, among countless others. Certainly, moments like that are ones those guys will deeply cherish for the long haul.

Additionally, what is awe-inspiring is that he was becoming just as accomplished off the court as he was on it. Following his illustrious career, the 6-foot-6 guard won an Oscar for a short film called “Dear Basketball.” The film was based on a heartfelt poem Bryant wrote during the final season of his 20-year tenure in the league.

Certainly, it demonstrated that he was not a one-trick pony. He was much more than a guy who just knew how to play a sport exceptionally well. It became clear he was intelligent, and, better, yet, articulate.

Albeit Bryant invested a surplus of time on the job, so to speak, he had learned more and more the importance of family as his life progressed. He made a conscious effort to put his loved ones before anything else. It is what makes Gianna’s passing every bit as hard of a pill to swallow.

Gianna, just like her papa, duteously loved the game of basketball. In fact, there were a couple times this season where she and her famous dad were on the sidelines at Staples Center. The youngster clearly wanted to get a closer look at the nuances of the sport from up close, and KB obliged without hesitation.

Los Angeles Lakers
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Needless to say, this love of the sport is what makes what happened a few days ago so heartbreaking. The pair, along with seven others, were on their way to a youth basketball event.

Naturally, some have tirelessly wondered why a helicopter was taken to the venue. Per Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, it is because Kobe was aiming to be the best father he could be. Instead of dealing with traffic on the roads, the time spent in the air felt more intentional and special.

Indeed, as Wetzel worded it, the five-time champion was truly trying to be a good parent. He valued father-daughter time and this was one way to enable bonding to flourish. He took pride in it, just as he did in every single endeavor he undertook.

The lifelong Laker also took immense pride in another area. It is a facet of life that does not get enough credit. The dude was very philanthropic and giving of his time, per a recent report from KTLA 5.

He and his wife, Vanessa, had their own foundation and were committed to serving the lives of those in need. The couple’s foundation strives to gives out scholarships, while also helping LA natives who are on the streets.

Kobe also held a special relationship with the Make A Wish Foundation. Throughout his lifetime, he made the wishes of over 250 kids come true, via the same report.

While that statistic is praiseworthy, he positively affected so many other individuals throughout his 41 years. The actual number of people is one that only the Big Man up above would be able to determine.

Sigh. Bidding farewell is so, so, so hard. Kobe Bean Bryant was a hero of mine, a figure who did not even need a cape to prove it.

What stands out to me about the man is how hard he pushed himself. He was arguably the most determined human being I have ever seen. Seriously.

I marveled at him, much like a toddler who has made his or her first visit to a candy shop. My eyes just widened like a pair of flying saucers because, well, Kobe was so fly.

Los Angeles Lakers
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The legend’s approach to life drove me forward when I was still a student in school, perhaps struggling to put the finishing touches on a term paper. Moreover, it has energized me when I have had a long day at work, as I tell myself to just keep going. Whatever the case may be, Kobe’s way of life helped me become who I am today.

For that, Mister Bryant, I cannot say thank you sufficiently enough. I could verbalize those words more times than career points you attained, and it would not measure up. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

What happened on the morning of January 26, 2020, remains one of the saddest things I have ever heard. It is soul-crushing and is something that, as humans, will never be understood in this life.

My thoughts and prayers are extended to Vanessa Bryant in particular, who lost her husband and one of her four babies. Likewise, I pray for Vanessa’s three surviving daughters, who lost a father and sister.

Furthermore, thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the other seven members involved in the spine-chilling wreck.

As cruel and unfair as the situation is, Lakers fans, take solace in the memories that the beloved Kobe Bryant gave us. Those are the types of things that can never be eradicated.

Last but not least, to all who have made it this far, I implore you to live a little more like Kobe. Push yourself to even greater limits than you ever thought imaginable and never give up notwithstanding how monumental circumstances might be at the present moment.

While the L.A. icon is no longer here, I can assure you all that No. 8/24 would be proud of anyone who followed suit in terms of how he lived. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, he gave everything he possibly could to life and living out his example is the best way to move forward his otherworldly legacy.

Next. Postponing the Clippers game was the right move. dark

I know the words thank you seem rather diminutive, but I again feel the intrinsic need to put them forward. Thank you so much, Kobe. You will be sorely missed not only by Lakers fans, but by the sports world, and, perhaps more accurately, the world itself.