Where do I even start?
Growing up in England during the 90’s, basketball wasn’t really embraced. This is a country enshrined in soccer after all. For a young boy like me, who didn’t care for “football,” I was searching for something else.
I remember long before the internet and cable TV when there were only four channels available, every Friday night we would be treated to one NBA game that had taken place earlier that week. My earliest memories of this come from when I was 9 back in 1996. It would usually be Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Antoine Walker’s Celtics or your Lakers. I sat with my mum every week, watching whatever game was being shown to the British public, and I loved it.
If you asked me, I could never give you a definitive answer to what drew me towards the Celtics but from the first game I saw, I knew this was the game I would follow for the rest of my life.
This continued as a weekly ritual until December of 1997, not long after i had turned 10. Then, something changed. Channel 5 had launched just a few months earlier, and on this random Thursday night there was a basketball game being shown on prime time TV. That game was you versus Jordan, Lakers and Bulls, which had taken place the previous night in what was your first battle with the GOAT.
The ratings must have been good. After that day, things changed over here. Games were shown more frequently and news of your achievements began making their way onto the back pages of newspapers. People began wearing basketball jerseys more often, and games became more frequent year after year. That game spawned a whole new generation of fans and the game continued to grow on these shores ever since.
Your legacy is more than that though.
You inspired a generation.
Not only to pursue the sport of basketball, but to pursue their dreams. You embodied the mantra of “hard work beats talent,” that the keys to success reside in the efforts we put forth.
And put forth those efforts we did.
I was a 10-year-old boy in the back yard every night after school, working on my game. Left hand, right hand, fadeaways, jump shots, shuttle runs. With every shot, I yelled, “KOBE,” just like all the other kids whose lives you touched.
The kids in the neighborhood used to ask why I would play basketball on my own, instead of soccer with everyone else. They didn’t get it. They hadn’t seen beauty of the game like I had. They had never seen you play with such passion and ferocity. So I trained alone, year on year, night after night, inspired by the likes of you, MJ and Larry Bird.
As the years passed and the internet became a thing, NBA games became more accessible. And so, I followed my beloved Celtics. The more I watched, the more I understood the rivalry between Boston and LA. I began to dislike you. I began to dislike the way you would elevate your game against the team I loved so dearly and I disliked how much you enjoyed victory against us. But with a sinking feeling of guilt, I would still navigate my way to your highlights from the previous night, begrudgingly admiring that desire and drive that captivated me all those years ago.
I followed your career closely, routing against Kobe the player every step of the way, but I always rooted for the work ethic you embodied - that, to me, was a priceless aspect of the Kobe experience. And that will be the true legacy you leave behind.
My daughter was 6-years-old when you played your final game. She sat with me as I watched and I explained to her the impact you had on the world. I took the time to explain the work and determination you had shown to return to the court following that gruesome injury, and how you willed yourself to go out on your terms, in true Kobe fashion.
It was heartwarming to see her learning the same lessons from you that I had all those years ago, lessons that you imparted on millions of kids across the globe. I was lucky enough to be one of them and so was my daughter. I will cherish that memory forever.
Those lessons didn’t end when your career did either. You continued to guide a generation. This time it was a generation of talented young women, as you walked hand in hand with your daughter through the beginning of her own basketball journey.
A journey which tragically ended too soon.
You will be missed Kobe, a legend who touched the lives of millions. All over the world and from all walks of life.
What lives on is that “Mamba Mentality.” As dawn breaks today, there will be many who just like me, have the renewed desire to chase their dreams, to work harder than anyone else is willing to, to become the best version of themselves.
It’s in those people, the true legacy of Kobe Bryant lives on.
Thank you, Kobe. You inspired the world. You inspired me. I hope you and Giannia rest in eternal peace.