41 years old.
That’s how old Kobe Bryant was when he left not just us and the world of basketball, but the global stage that he had occupied since he declared for the NBA Draft as a 17-year old high school kid all the way back in 1997. He spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming one of the game’s true living legends, a player who inspired fierce debates at sports bars around the world, one of the most feared players in crunch-time in NBA history.
One of the most decorated players to ever play in the NBA, Bryant exceeded all of the lofty expectations that were placed on him. A five-time champion on the game’s highest stage, two-time Finals MVP, the 2007-2008 NBA MVP, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He was an 18-time All Star, a 15-time member of the All NBA Teams and is one of just 4 players to be named to an All Defensive Team 9 times, a record shared with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, and Gary Payton. A resume that is amongst the most accomplished in league history.
That guy is just gone? At 41 years old?
How could that be?
How can Kobe Bryant be gone? This is the guy that played through EVERYTHING, a guy with such a fierce desire and work ethic that it has become the thing of legends. If he could run, lift his arms, and flick his wrist, he was playing One of my favorite stories in the category of mental toughness: He won his 5th championship not only with a broken index finger on his shooting hand, but playing on a knee that was so shot that it required fluid to be drained from it during the 2010 playoffs. I believe it was ESPN that once did a graphic on all the injuries he suffered throughout his 20-year career as a member of the Lakers and his entire body was basically a wound at one point or another.
This is the same guy that tried to pull his Achilles’ tendon down to reattach it, realized he couldn’t, and then decided not only was he going to make both of his free throws, but was going to walk off the court under his own power, on HIS terms.
I am a die-hard Spurs fan, but I can’t even being to tell you what he meant to me. When I was at ground zero and going through some of the absolute worst things a person can go through, I found peace and comfort in learning how to play the game watching a guy like him. I started both playing and watching so late (around the ages of 19, 20, so that would be around 2011-2012) that I missed all of those early 2000s battles with the Lakers and he only really had a handful of healthy seasons throughout my time watching the league and as a consequence, I’ve never had that dislike of Kobe Bryant the player that is common amongst Spurs fans. On the contrary, I’ve spent what amounts to probably hundreds of hours watching footage of him on YouTube, watching 3-second clips over and over again, trying to break down everything about his game, from his footwork to the way he raised his arms up to go into his jump shot, and even how far he extended his dribble when going into his one-dribble pull-up.
I did this as recently as LAST WEEK.
I’m hurting for so many people, people I don’t even know. I’m hurting for his wife and surviving children, of his parents that have to bury their son, of the players that he touched and inspired along the way. He was revered by both his own generation and the ones that followed him, taking on the role of mentor as he reached his twilight years. Lebron James, who just passed him on the all time scoring list just on Saturday night, was still in awe when explaining what the player Bryant was meant to him, talking how you would expect a fan to. Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, who grew up in Southern California idolizing him and is the de facto symbol of his shoe line with Nike, played a game against the Toronto Raptors mere hours after it was announced in what felt like a complete daze while Tim Duncan, the stoic big man who led the Spurs into battle against Bryant and the Lakers for years, was noticeably shaken up, tears streaming down his face on the sideline. Gregg Popovich and so many other coaches, players, and media members around the league paid their respects to the Black Mamba throughout the day and will surely continue to in the coming days.
"Take Kobe away I wouldn't be here..."— John Elizondo (@johndelizondo) January 26, 2020
L.A. native DeMar DeRozan talks about the impact Kobe Bryant had on him, and how both teams came up with the 24-second violation tribute. pic.twitter.com/I6ex1flXPC
Gregg Popovich speaks about Kobe’s Legacy pic.twitter.com/uBBeBucQ6Y— ContentNBA (@ContentNBA) January 26, 2020
Yesterday more than anything, to me, was a reminder of just how delicate life really is, how fragile we all are. We take so much for granted, even though, deep down, we must know that nothing is guaranteed, that everything can change in the blink of an eye, and that life as we know and love it could be gone in an instant. It was a reminder that every day is a gift and that you have a duty to both yourself and the people you come into contact with to try to live up to your potential, to try to appreciate and have an impact on each and every single one of those people that you come across. We are all born with gifts, talents, and potential, and it is up to US to decide if we are going to use them in the hopes of becoming who we should be.
Kobe Bryant tried to use his gifts every single day of his life, even after retiring and having his spot solidified in the pantheon, a place secured amongst the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. As crazy as it may be considering just how accomplished he was on the basketball court, Bryant was really just beginning to scrape the surface of his true potential, and that might be the saddest thing of all.
If there is ANYTHING you can take away from such a tragedy, let it be this: Let it be a reminder to you that tomorrow is never guaranteed, that we have to make every single moment we have count, because we never know when it could in fact be the last moment. YOU have a responsibility to live up to your potential each and every single day that you get to wake up to. That, more than anything, is what Kobe taught me at my lowest moment.
Rest in Peace, Kobe Bryant. The world is a much less interesting and much sadder place without you in it.