Kobe was Inglewood
The place where he started his career. Playing in the Forum as a 17-year-old kid drafted by the Lakers in 1996. This wasn’t Kobe, the star. This was the Kobe that worked himself to the bone. The legend of his work ethic transcends any highlight he’s ever had. The “Mamba Mentality.” Tales of him working out at 4 a.m. when some players are coming back from a night out. Just like the community that surrounded his first professional home.
This isn’t the LA you read about or see on TV. This is the hard work, no glitz, Los Angeles; that’s the reality for millions of people. Everything that the Clippers are trying to market themselves as right now, Kobe was. Black or Hispanic, you were watching Kobe. At any given moment, you could see someone walking around in a shirt with the x-ray of his hand, showing all the places it had jammed or fractured, but he always continued to play.
Pain was a momentary nuisance to him. It didn’t matter if his Achilles ripped clean off the bone, best believe he’d go out there and shoot free throws. We all watched. Hit after hit, break after break, he was there. “You will not outwork me.” No one was more dedicated than Kobe. He had the aura around him that told everyone he wasn’t the one to mess with. That’s Inglewood. That’s where the LA ego comes from. The trash talk. No flinch. The I’ll go shut down your best player and give him 45 points on the other end kind of attitude. The I can do anything.
Kobe was Hollywood
He was everywhere. Billboards, Nike commercials, rap videos, magazines. No celebrity shined brighter. His smile was the polar opposite of his trademark scowl. Kobe was a master storyteller. This is a guy that won an Academy Award only a year after playing. You could see him on a late-night show joking it up or talking about the love of his life, his daughters.
He’d let you know how Gigi would carry on his legacy and torch every court she’d ever play on. Just like her dad.
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He always thought about his legacy.
From when he first entered the league, he said he’d be the best ever to do it and ended up the symbol for a generation. He embraced the spotlight as only one other Laker had, but there was only one Kobe. He found a way to put the perfect ending on everything he did. We saw this over and over again. At a point, it seemed Kobe was synonymous with game-winners. When the game was on the line and the clock under five, the ball would be in his hands. Even at the end of his career, he found a way to make it feel like a storybook. Sixty points, the most ever in a curtain call.
Only Kobe. He’d always end right on time but leave you wanting more.
Kobe was Chinatown
24 is global. His reach goes far beyond the Staples Center. Some people have never spoken a word of English but screamed Kobe at the top of their lungs when he’d rise for a fadeaway. There is not one American born player that’s more popular than him in China.
During his 20 years in the league, you could go to Chinatown and see him. Whether it was a knock off jersey or a framed picture, he connected to the community like no one else. The NBA has only been a global game for a short amount of time, and a lot of that had to do with him. The feeling that you get watching him contort his body through the air to get to the basket was universal.
Everyone wanted to defy the odds like Kobe.
Kobe was Downtown
Staples Center, the place he ended his career. The house that Kobe built.
Until 2000, it had been almost a decade since Los Angeles had won a sports title. Anywhere else in the country that’s celebrated. Not in LA. This is a town that doesn’t celebrate winners, it requires them. Kobe was the ultimate winner. Five championships. Tied for the most out of anyone that ever wore the royal purple and gold.
He wore it as a badge of honor.
Celebrities, icons and moguls all looked up to him. The city showed love for him unlike anyone else because every night in the confines of Staples he’d put on a show.
There have been countless great scorers in the NBA, but no one turned putting the ball in the hoop into an artistic expression. At times, it seems like he’d create challenges for himself to increase the entertainment. He’d go out of his way to shoot over a double team or to find a new player to dunk over.
The images of him celebrating will live on forever. Hands outstretched, confetti raining around him as he stood over an entire city in attendance. He was a star, unlike any other.
Kobe was LA
One of my first memories was going to the 2000 championship parade. As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, nothing came before the Lakers. My parents had been fans all their lives, and they passed it on to my siblings and me as if it was hereditary. My mother dressed us up in matching eight jerseys, each with a pair of Kobe signature shoes to match. A laker flag proudly clung to the window of our car just like every other one that passed by. Millions of people coming to pay their respect to a team that brought success back to the city. Me, hanging on to my dad’s shoulders above the sea of gold and purple, hoping to catch a glimpse of the float pass by.
Those same millions mourned on Sunday.
“This is how 9/11 felt.”
That’s what my mother told me on the phone that day. Tragedy. A life that was supposed to be here for decades to come was ripped away from us on a freak accident. It can’t be described what he meant to my home town. He was the guy that held everyone together. An invisible fabric that you didn’t acknowledge but knew at all times was there.
It made us all rethink our relationships and mourn together. Saying an extra “I love you” because we were reminded how fragile life is. Knowing that everyone you pass is going through the same amount of grief. Crying next to a stranger for someone you loved equally. It’s more than just about sports.
Kobe was a Religion
Stats were meaningless arguing about Kobe. Something I frequently did after my love for the Lakers faded because my favorite player Shaq left.
There was no use.
Kobe wasn’t great because of his stats. It was his essence. How do you boil down emotion into a qualitative stat? The feeling you got when he was on the court was unlike any other. He made you respect him. You could feel a lot of things about Kobe Bryant, but you could never be indifferent. It was love or it was hate. Viewers had the same passion for watching him as he did playing. It didn’t even matter if you watched basketball.
He touched everyone.
I remember Sunday afternoons during the playoffs, the extended family that I’m not close with would come over. All I had to say was, “how about the Lakers?” They’d reply with, “how about Kobe?”
He brought people together.
Kobe was Everything to Me
It still doesn’t feel right. He shouldn’t be gone. For us, he was a superhero in real life. He’s embedded into everything we do. All over, kids would spend hours in the driveway mimicking every move he ever made. He was the cultural figure that was on the tip of our tongue when a crumpled up piece of paper was in hand. A universal signal that could light up a conversation at any time.
He can’t be gone. Not like this.
As a player, Kobe didn’t pass. He’s not allowed to pass away. Every night, between 94- feet of hardwood, he always found a way to do the impossible. Why not live forever? If anyone was to figure out immortality, it was him.
This man made me fall in love with what I do now. I’m the person I am because of him. And now a piece of me is gone.
I shouldn’t be crying this much over a person I never met, but I know there’s a city full of people who feel the same way I do. The town he inspired and loved with all his heart. He gave us 20 years. We watched him grow up as we grew with him. A representative that brought the world’s attention.
A man who could never be duplicated or thanked. Only adored.
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