By Jack Anderson
What was it that made us feel so heroic when we said “Kobe!” as we shot an object into a trash can? How did Kobe Bryant become such an icon that we yell his name as we shoot in pickup games, or fool around in the classroom, or heave trash into the garbage can out of boredom at the office?
Kobe’s status in the basketball world made him a meme before memes were cool. The origins of “Kobe!” trace as far back as 2004, well into Kobe’s prime years, and even influenced comedian Dave Chappelle to write a skit about it. Saying “Kobe” makes any average man or woman feel like a superstar just from hitting a shot of crumpled paper into a trash can six feet away. Kobe’s influence reached everywhere. His basketball legacy is forever ingrained into our minds, with memes like this that emphasize the cultural impact he’s had. He was immortalized in the game long before his career was even over.
This is just one reason why the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s death on January 26, along with his daughter Gianna and 7 others, is so shocking. Kobe was always an athlete who just seemed invincible. He was bigger than the sport itself. His ‘Mamba Mentality’ was a signature to his game, as he was just mentally tougher than any athlete of his generation. He was locked in 24/7, one of the most focused individuals in sports, especially when it mattered most in clutch moments or in the playoffs. All of these traits make it so hard to believe that a man at that level of mental and physical invincibility can be gone so soon. In a way, it makes you feel vulnerable and powerless as a human being when something so horrific can happen to someone of such strength.
Not long before the news of the helicopter crash, a video of Kobe and his daughter Gianna Bryant, 13, at a Lakers game went viral as it showed Kobe coaching her with the same Mamba Mentality that he’s always had, and Gianna’s soaking it all in, smiling and nodding. They had such a close relationship, and she wanted to be just like him. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel before he passed, Kobe mentioned that she wanted to play in the WNBA. She had dreams of following her Dad’s footsteps and she was on her way there. That part kills me the most about their deaths. Gigi was born with the same Mamba Mentality that her dad had and was ready to carry the legacy.
The Kobe anecdotes continue to pile up all over social media. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ words ring true: “Everybody had a Kobe story,” like ESPN anchor Elle Duncan who shared her Kobe story on SportsCenter. She explained how he would gush about his daughters, specifically mentioning Gigi in their interview, and how he just loved to be a girl dad, while she held back tears. Her story was one of many stories that touched the hearts of fans everywhere, and even began trending on Twitter, with the hashtag #girldad. Kobe loved his daughters so much and you could really see that shine through.
Then, we saw Shaquille O’Neal open up about Kobe’s passing and what he’s been dealing with since losing his former teammate. Seeing Shaq get emotional to that degree was something we’ve never seen before from him. He added during his emotional interview that Kobe had just texted his son Shareef to check on him. Bryant had such character and really cared for those around him. Shaq was far from the only player, active or inactive, to be visibly distraught by the news. That Sunday, NBA games were still being played as the afternoon news broke, and several players chose not to play. Many players were seen emotional before, during and after the games, like Tyson Chandler and Bradley Beal. It was a very difficult day for many.
The Raptors and Spurs paid tribute to Kobe’s death on January 26 by committing a 24-second shot clock violation in honour of #24. The league felt the hurt. Fans around the world have been impacted too, and the tributes to Kobe Bryant have been endless. Even gamers on NBA 2K20 got involved by playing online with Kobe Bryant Lakers jerseys and starting off matches by taking 24-second violations, just like the Raptors and Spurs did.
The world stood still on Sunday, January 26th of 2020. Kobe’s death has already seen the cultural significance of a death like Michael Jackson’s or John Lennon. He was exactly what those two were in their industry: legends.
So whenever someone picks up some trash, or some crumpled paper or a basketball itself, let’s hope that the 5-time NBA champion comes to mind and that person yells his name as they drain the shot. It’s up to this generation of basketball fans to remind the next generation of Kobe Bryant’s importance and the everlasting impact that he had on the game, and all that can be done by never letting a great tradition die. How else would the Mamba want to be remembered?