• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Remembering Kobe Bryant: The Black Mamba

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

By Ian Daniels


Remembering Kobe Bryant: The Black Mamba

One of the first names I had ever associated with basketball was Kobe Bryant. It was the 2001 NBA Finals, and the Philadelphia 76ers were playing Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers. Being from the Philadelphia area, I was watching the Finals because league MVP Allen Iverson was set to make history, but throughout the entire series, the only person I could focus on was Kobe. His game was smooth yet chaotic. He played angry but with such control. Kobe has never once been scared to take the big shot. He captivated a six-year-old me almost immediately, and he was not even the best player on his team. Fifteen years later I found myself staying up until an ungodly hour to watch one last virtuoso performance from the Black Mamba. My experience of Kobe Bryant was very much like most others who had to privilege of watching him: Awe-inspired.

It was reported on Sunday that Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA, along with seven others. [1] He was 41. Kobe inspired the generation of basketball players about to take over the league today. Kyrie Irving, Trae Young, and Jayson Tatum are a just few of the many superstars in the NBA who credit Kobe with their love for the game. One of the most interesting parts about Kobe Bryant is the dichotomy that had just begun to develop between Kobe the player and Kobe the former player.

Kobe worked on his game like a fine artist perfected a brush stroke. He honed his craft more relentlessly and more finely tuned than almost any professional athlete you can name. His work ethic and drive to be the best, can be epitomized in a single quote: “Friends can come and go, but banners hang forever.” [2] It is said that this mentality is what drove Shaquille O’Neal out of LA and what kept Dwight Howard and Steve Nash’s tenure championship-free during their time with the Lakers, but it is this mentality, the “Mamba Mentality,” that made Kobe Bryant who he was. Kobe did not have time for friendships because all he could focus on what being the greatest basketball player on the planet. It can be said that maybe this way of thinking was flawed. And Kobe was flawed. But it was impossible to take your eyes off of Kobe when he had the ball in his hands because of this state of mind.

It was the Mamba Mentality that brought him back from what most thought would be a career-ending Achilles tear in April of 2013. [3] Kobe could not even allow himself to walk off the court without shooting his free-throws that night. Once again, he would not be denied. In the twilight of his career, Kobe knew he was not finished yet, and used that relentless drive to come back to basketball and play until 2016. [4] He capped off a 20-year First-Ballot-Hall-of-Fame career with a 60-point game, just to make sure you all knew he had never stopped being the Mamba.

Upon his retirement, he was finally able to do what he had kept himself from doing for so long, open up to the basketball community. His farewell letter to basketball was made into an animation that won an Oscar. His aptly named ESPN show, Detail, allowed us to finally look into the genius basketball mind that was Kobe Bryant in a way we never thought would be possible during his playing career. He enjoyed being out in the community. He loved being a part of basketball’s family in a way that he did not allow himself to before. He had been seen with his four daughters regularly attending women’s sporting events and actively supporting women’s sports. He was using his legendary drive to take the time to be the best father he could be. Kobe was a part of American culture, from sports, to Hollywood, to music, it is impossible to have never heard of Kobe Bryant as an American in the twenty-first century. There is no telling the impact he was going to have on our culture and the game of basketball later in life.

20-years with the same team, 1,300 games played, 33,643 points, fourth all time in scoring, five-time NBA Champion, MVP, Finals MVP, 81 points in a single game; Kobe Bryant was a basketball savant who was good enough to come into the league as an 18-year-old high schooler and create a legacy that spanned two generations of basketball. [5] He had statistics so great, he was able to have two hall of fame careers; one for each of the two retired numbers hanging in the rafters of the Staples Center. The son of former Philadelphia 76er Joe Bryant, Kobe was born with a basketball in his hand and refused to let it go until his body physically could not let him continue. The game winners, the dunks, the pure bliss of those championships; Kobe Bryant went out there every single night to put on a show.

Regardless of your opinion on where Kobe ranks amongst the greats in the Pantheon of Basketball, there is no argument that he is one of the greatest competitors to ever grace the world of sports. There are just too many moments to count that show just how important Kobe Bryant was to so many. On Sunday January 24th, 2020, we lost one of the greatest athletes this world will ever see and his beloved daughter, Gigi, who undoubtedly would have followed her father’s footsteps into greatness. We will always remember Kobe for the fantastic memories he has given basketball fans and non-fans alike all across the world. They were taken far too soon. Thoughts are with their family and the families of those in the accident. Thank you, Kobe, and rest in peace.

Sources:

[1] Artemis Moshtaghian, Kobe Bryant dies at age 41 in helicopter crash in California, CNN (Jan. 26, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/26/us/calabasas-helicopter-crash-trnd/index.html

[2] Baxter Holmes, Kobe: Friends can come and go, but banners hang forever, ESPN (June 28, 2015), https://www.espn.com/blog/los-angeles-lakers/post/_/id/41673/kobe-friends-can-come-and-go-but-banners-hang-forever

[3] Jillian Martin and Jason Moon, Kobe Bryant tears Achilles, sidelined for months, CNN (April 13, 2013), https://www.cnn.com/2013/04/13/sport/kobe-bryant-injury/index.html

[4] Kobe Bryant, State Muse, https://www.statmuse.com/nba/player/kobe-bryant-480/career-stats?playerStatsBreakdown=totals&seasonType=regularSeason

[5] Id.