Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was for all ages

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

No matter how young or old you were, Kob Bryant was someone everyone could look up to and respect.

I’ve been trying to conjure up the right words to say about the impact Kobe Bryant had on me. I am finding it difficult to articulate sentiments that haven’t been said about him already. But I can try.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my earliest memories are those of being coddled by my parents and being dropped off at my grandparent’s apartment in Echo Park. Most days I spent with my Nanay and Tatay watching The Price is Right, the Dodgers, and Lakers games.

Kobe wasn’t the first NBA player that got my attention. It wasn’t even Michael Jordan.

It was Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Cedric Ceballos, and role players like Elden Campbell and Tony Smith. It was the “Thief” Sedale Threatt, Vlade Divac, and longtime Lakers James Worthy and Byron Scott at the end of their careers.

Then in 1996, Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Lakers as a free agent. He was larger than life.

At this point, I was about nine years old. Not old enough to understand what the hell a collective bargaining agreement was (not that I could even explain it to you now as a 33-year-old), but old enough to know that Shaq was the man. He was Superman. A person I could look up to as a role model.

The Lakers General Manager at the time, Jerry West, otherwise known as ‘the logo’ (for now), had the craziest idea to send over their starting center, Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Kobe Bryant.

A lot of other things needed to fall through for the Lakers to fulfill West’s desire to grab the 17-year-old phenom. West needed Bryant’s agent, Arn Tellem, to scare off other NBA GMs from drafting Kobe, and hope that Divac would ease up on his threat to retire if traded to the Hornets.

I couldn’t tell you that as a 9-year-old I knew about the string-pulling West needed to orchestrate to make this trade. Aside from Dodgers and Lakers games, I was more preoccupied waiting for Plinko to come on or waiting to be horrified by that cliffhanger game with the yodeler.

But if you’re like me, you’re constantly using Wikipedia to feed curiousness and researching NBA history is usually at the top of my Wiki-adventures.

Looking up the 1996-97 NBA Draft, some people today might find it tough to understand how those 12 NBA teams could pass on a talent like Kobe. But aside from Kevin Garnett the year before, drafting a prospect straight out of high school was a controversial decision.

Tellem did scream at the Hornets GM Bob Bass, Charlotte did select Kobe, Divac did waver on retirement, and eventually gave in to the trade.

The man who will eventually be the man who used to be ‘the logo’ pulled off the trade and found Superman his running mate.

Little did I know as a 9-year-old boy that my actual role model, not Shaq, slipped through the cracks and became a member of my favorite team.

As they say — as Wikipedia says — the rest is history.

When I switched careers from the medical field to work in sports, I was scared, but I could say with confidence I wasn’t going to allow myself to throw that opportunity into my box of regrets.

That is how I felt up until Sunday, at 11:50 a.m. After that, I wanted nothing to do with sports.

I wasn’t at work when I heard the news, and I couldn’t imagine being there when it broke. I was at home when I got a text from one of my closest friends and it just read three letters:


I had a hunch it was something Lakers related as that’s what a lot of our short conversations are usually about. I assumed a few things: a freak injury to either LeBron James or Anthony Davis or a trade involving Kyle Kuzma.

I went straight to Twitter and the first thing I saw was a tweet from a friend who happens to be a huge Lakers fan. I won’t repeat the message, but it was an expletive in all caps.

A second after that, I googled “Lakers.”

A few seconds later, time stood still. Life changed forever.

My wife and I could not keep our eyes off our TV. As the details unfolded, the situation felt unimaginable. I went through stretches of staying away from social media because it was too much.

Eventually, I had to go to work and somehow manage to be even more jaded than normal, but knowing your childhood idol passed away in a helicopter crash puts your mind in such a strange space.

We’ve all lost a loved one, but for some reason, the events that transpired this past Sunday and its weighty effect, to me, has no precedent.

As I sat at work Saturday night, I was editing audio from LeBron’s post-game interview after passing Kobe for 3rd all-time in scoring. I was so enamored by the way James recounted his history with Kobe.

I thought, “Wow, we are going to look back on this sound when we reflect on James’ career at some point down the line.”

By Sunday night, SportsCenter used LeBron’s audio in a video montage highlighting his connection to the Lakers legend and referred to it as a fitting eulogy for Kobe.

“What parallel universe is this?” I shuddered to myself.

I just wanted to stay off social media, but my work is centered on the constant scourging of online content.

I couldn’t get myself to read any of the articles reflecting on Kobe. I unwittingly felt that reading other people’s emotions over Kobe would diminish my sentiments. This bizarre episode which was a cruel reality had me feeling territorial of the situation.

“I loved Kobe the most. I should be shedding the most tears,” I thought to myself as a complete selfish idiot.

Realizing how unfair and reckless my attitude was, I felt ashamed and dejected. I felt sicker than I already was.

Kobe wasn’t just for me. Kobe wasn’t just for people my age or my generation. He was for all ages.

My grandparents loved him. Your grandparents loved him. Kobe’s existence made people who met someone who knew him start to sob.

I’ve only gone to about 15 Lakers games in person. A couple at the Forum and the rest at Staples Center. I’ve sat in different sections, but it didn’t matter where I sat. Just being in the building gave me chills. Every time I stepped through the curtains it was like seeing the court for the first time. It was like breathing rarefied air.

I think Lakers’ games are just as fun from any seat. I used to think that the real Lakers fans were up top, but after witnessing the crowd from courtside, the energy is just as electric as it is in the 300s.

One of those visits was in 2013 — the night Kobe tore his Achilles. He initially hurt his left leg earlier in the game before the Achilles tear. He was known to play through injury and masking pain, but after dropping to the ground in the 4th quarter, there wasn’t a seat at Staples that was unaware that Kobe, for the first time, looked physically shook and vulnerable.

The Lakers won that game, clinching the 8th seed, but it just felt secondary to Kobe’s injury. He wouldn’t be able to play during the playoffs. Usually, after a Lakers win, I couldn’t wait to read a recap online and watch postgame interviews. That night, I took some pause.

During his post-game interview, Kobe said he was “pissed and sad.” An Achilles injury has been a career destroyer for many athletes in any sport. He was devout toward his craft and understanding the magnitude of this injury, he knew there was a potential that he wouldn’t be the same player after rehab.

For a player so good at hiding pain, watching him speak with tears in his eyes let the world know that this could be the beginning of the end of his NBA career.

We all knew about his legendary work ethic to enhance his God-given abilities. We all rooted for him as we would root our own blood.

It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Kobe wouldn’t physically be the same player or having the thought of him retiring, but acceptance was part of the process.

I felt sad for him. Not because we’d lose him as an every-night dominating NBA player, but because I genuinely felt worried about his well-being after hanging up his sneakers.

In 2016, I wrote an article about the inevitable end of his basketball career and the uncertainty that would succeed him in retirement. It was my way of saying that he would struggle to find happiness.

Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

He launched Kobe, INC., started a venture capital firm, and created Granity Studios, a media company that has made its mark in educating through storytelling.

For a man who was labeled hobby-less, winning an Academy Award in 2018 for his short film, “Dear Basketball,” was a testament to his ability to thrive over a challenge.

Kobe reinvented himself.

As he’s done throughout his lifetime, Kobe proved those who doubted him, myself included. Just another notch on the proverbial belt that I would imagine is rather large.

Kobe no longer was the tenacious basketball player opponents feared in the NBA. He channeled that tenacity and applied elsewhere.

With Granity, Kobe created “The Punies” podcast — a series dedicated to teaching young kids life lessons on how to play sports with joy and limitless imagination. Kobe was willing to share this vision with young kids and advocated for women’s basketball.

One of Kobe’s superpowers: selflessness.

It’s an attribute synonymous with a person you grew up with, like a family member. To millions of people, he felt exactly that. Family.

Kobe did come back to play a couple of injury-plagued seasons and eventually passed Jordan for 3rd all-time in scoring in 2014, and as we all re-lived Tuesday night, he dropped 60 points in his last NBA game.

I attended that game but wouldn’t have been able to without the selflessness of my family. They knew how much it meant for me to be there, so they helped pay for my ticket. They sacrificed their desires and willed that on me.

That selflessness I saw from Kobe and my loved ones have surrounded me in my everyday life.

We all knew that once Kobe left the game, it would be rare to catch him at a Lakers game. It would have to be at his jersey retirement, statue unveiling, and his induction into the NBA Hall-of-Fame for us to be so lucky.

Kobe never stopped working, even well after his NBA career came to a close. Amongst his business ventures, one of the most important aspects of his life was being a father.

The relationship between Gigi and Kobe and the adoration they shared for each other brought him back to where it all began.

As detailed in Cindy Boren’s piece for the Washington Post from the ‘All the Smoke’ Showtime Basketball podcast, Bryant said,

"“Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now that she’s into basketball, we watch every night,”"

No longer bound by the basketball court, his 2nd act was to educate, inspire, and tell stories through his experiences so he could pass down his knowledge to anyone willing to listen and be taught.

Kobe showed an entire generation how to work hard, do things the right way, persevere, and not be afraid to fail. The confidence in himself helped people believe they could be as successful.

Tracy McGrady revealed on ESPN’s The Jump that Kobe had told him he wanted to die young, while also saying that he wanted to be better than Michael Jordan.

Kobe wanted to outdo MJ, so he took the tools he saw in Jordan and made it his own. Kobe once said, “I don’t want to be Michael Jordan. I want to be Kobe Bryant.”

Recalling a quote referenced in Matt Given’s article for INC.com, Kobe said,

"Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream."

I’ll never be the next Pablo Torre or the next Max Kellerman. I’ll never be the greatest writer or a sports historian. I don’t even know if a career in sports is in it for me in the long run. Part of me believes I just got in it so I’d be able to sneak my way into the Lakers’ organization. An organization I’ve idolized as a 9-year-old boy from the San Fernando Valley.

From the countless lessons Kobe left us, this one resonates loudest: outwork everyone else.

The pain felt by life now void of Kobe is indefinite. But his legacy, teachings, love for his family and those touched by him are infinite.

At times we’ll cope well. Other times, we won’t. I’ve hesitated to read articles that include Kobe in fear of having to see the words “late”, or “was”, or “death.” It took me a while to visit his Wikipedia page.

Vanessa Bryant spoke out for the first time since Kobe and Gigi’s passing. I won’t understand that pain the Bryant family is going through, nor do I understand the pain felt by those who lost a loved one that Sunday morning.

Seeing former Lakers, past NBA greats, current NBA players, and people from different walks of life share thoughts and memories of Kobe and what he meant to them have helped during the grieving process

Dwyane Wade talked about the media pitting him, LeBron and other NBA stars against Kobe when all they wanted to do as a brotherhood was to make him proud. NBA players will continue to do so with heavy hearts as 2nd half of the NBA season rolls on.

While amazing stories of Kobe are being shared, many are taking this time to reflect on past grudges and reconnect with those around them. Appreciation for others while they still can.

Another Kobe superpower: unifier.

Kobe unified a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. From communities within Los Angeles to fans in Asia and everywhere in between, Kobe’s death affected millions. Seeing the outpour of affection and reverence through murals and art across the world is just a microscopic glimpse into what Kobe meant to people on a global scale.

The pain cuts deep here in Los Angeles.

I’ll be at Friday’s Lakers game against the Portland Trailblazers and will be expecting to feel every emotion possible as the world watches.

Physically, he isn’t here anymore, but the best way to represent Kobe is to push ourselves to better than we were yesterday.

Next. 3 Lessons Kobe Bryant Taught Us. dark

There is no silver lining here. These lives were taken away from us, but we’ve been given the tools to face this challenge with the blueprint Kobe left for us: the Mamba Mentality.