Column: I thank Kobe as a basketball fan

Kobe is Gone. His Legacy Lives Forever.
By: Madison Blevins

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

“Hearing the ball bounce. The feeling that you get when you make a great pass. Walking on the hardwood. Lacing up your sneakers… the whole game is just tremendous.” Kobe in high school when he was asked why he loved the game of basketball.

I grieve as a basketball fan.

I’ve read many times since Sunday afternoon: “There’s no way to put this tragedy into words.”

But here we are, two days later, without one of the game’s greatest storytellers. So, here I go, trying to put his death into words.

Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in Calabasas, California while he was traveling to his daughter’s youth basketball event. His daughter Gianna, 13, was also killed in the crash along with seven others.

Kobe. A man, a father, a husband, a friend, a storyteller, a basketball player. A man who doesn’t even need an introduction or a last name. No, just saying Kobe is all people needed to hear to be easily influenced or motivated.

It’s hard for me to write a piece like this, because it hits way too close to home. A father taking his daughter to basketball. A game they both loved more than anything, besides each other, of course.

A game I’ve loved for 18+ years. A game my father and I, too, share many memories together. I spent so much time growing up in the driveway or at my local gym shooting midrange jump-shots, reenacting last second situations yelling “Kobe!”, while my dad was right there under the rim, rebounding for me and saying, “10 more makes then we should be done… your mom probably has dinner ready by now.” We would stay for a lot longer than just 10 more makes. It was a game that brought us even closer together and continues to with each game I call from the other side of the court now… and yes dad, you can come to my adult-league basketball game Wednesday night.

 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

That’s what the game of basketball and sports in general do for people; it brings them together and Kobe’s passing has been the biggest testimony for that. It doesn’t matter if you played basketball, football, baseball, hockey, or gymnastics, Kobe inspired you in someway. I’ve never met Kobe, I didn’t even grow up being a Lakers fan… and honestly on Kobe vs LeBron debates, I rooted for LeBron; however, his death has affected me in ways I didn’t know it could. An inspiration gone. Gone doing what he loved the most… doing what I loved the most.

And as I write this, I keep getting distracted seeing Gigi’s shots in my head. A highlight reel that was better than Kobe at his age, and Kobe was the first to admit that. Her future was bright, her game was strong, and she was just 13 years old.

You’ve probably seen the video by now of Kobe breaking down a play with Gigi just last week.

That’s what Kobe was to all of us, whether you knew him or not. A teacher, a leader, an encourager. He showed the world that not just hard-work, but relentless hard-work, is what separates the good from great.

ESPN re-aired Kobe’s last game on Monday night and I found myself watching it as if it was in real time. For a split second, it felt real. It felt like Kobe was still out there doing what he loved. And I felt like I was back in college, getting ready for basketball practice and studying his moves. I remember watching his last game live in my college apartment with my teammates debating on if he’d go down as the best ever.

“Yeah but MJ has 6 rings and Kobe only has 5.”

“Yeah but Kobe is more of a pure scorer than LeBron.”

…and it went on and on.

But the fact of the matter is, for as selfish of a scorer as Kobe was, that’s not what he was focused on that night. That night and in his personal life he was selfless. He was focused on finishing his legacy on the court as a player and using it to make his daughter and her teammates the best basketball players they could be. Something he died trying to do.

Kobe displayed the game in the most beautiful light. Through his work ethic, he encouraged people to keep pursing, keep learning, keep growing. Breaking down film and even breaking down still-pictures… which no other athlete was doing at the time. Kobe would study Michael Jordan’s every move. Every shot. Every cross-over. He didn’t want to be Michael, he wanted to be better. Kobe once told Lakers photographer Andrew Bernstein that he would study his pictures. He’d look at Jordan boxing out in a still image and read the way his elbows were placed, he’d study his foot placement, and then he’d go out and perfect a box-out himself. A box-out. Something you learn in Day 1 of Basketball 101. Yet, that’s why Kobe was the best. Because he put emphasis on the fundamentals… the “little things”.

Imagine if we all lived daily with the “Mamba Mentality.” Not taking no for an answer, working harder than your peers, but most importantly, encouraging everyone around you to be the best version of themselves. That’s what Kobe was. And he made the world a better, happier place because of it.

Hug your loved ones. Tell them you love them. Go pick up a basketball and do it in honor of Kobe. I know tomorrow night in my adult basketball league, I’ll lace up my Kobe’s that are 5 years-old and so worn down, put on my Mamba socks, and hope someone yells, “Kobe!” when they make a fadeaway jumper.

“And we both know, no matter what I do next, I’ll always be that kid. With the rolled-up socks. Garbage can in the corner… :05 seconds on the clock. Ball in my hands.

5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1”

In loving memory of all who passed away tragically on Sunday morning:

Kobe Bryant & Gianna Bryant

John & Keri Altobelli, their daughter Alyssa Altobelli

Mother & Daughter Sarah and Payton Chester

Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser

Pilot Ara Zobayan