Kobe Bryant’s Legacy Will Live On Off the Court
Before my 13 year old son’s AAU season started, he told me he wanted to change his number to “8”. I just looked at him and said “sure… whatever you want to do”. You see, I wasn’t a Kobe Bryant fan on any level. Since my hapless New York Knicks couldn’t do anything on their own, my happiest day of the NBA season was always the day the Lakers got eliminated. The only time I would remotely root for Bryant was when he played for USA Basketball.
But, I will say this. True NBA fans appreciate greatness even when it’s a “hated” rival. Bryant was great on the floor. There wasn’t a shot too big. There wasn’t a moment that overwhelmed him. He was brash. Not only was he great, he knew he was great and carried himself in that fashion. He won five championships with the Lakers by being obsessed with winning. He drove his teammates to do the same. If you didn’t get on board, Bryant didn’t have time for you. That type of drive is going to rub a lot of people and, like I remind people, it’s not the only way to show a desire to win. Tim Duncan won five rings with the San Antonio Spurs and he couldn’t be more different than Bryant. The greatest power forward of this generation was a quiet leader who let head coach, Greg Popovich, be the leader that drove the Spurs train. But, that’s fine. Success comes in many different ways.
But as, Los Angeles Times columnist, Bill Plaschke pointed out in his article about Bryant, as the Black Mamba settled into retirement, he slowly let the fans know him better. As that happened, Bryant became more likable to the public at large, many years after Eagle, Colorado.
The same drive that made him one of the greatest NBA players, won him an Oscar. Bryant had a line of children’s books along with running his Foundation. It served noticed to the public that the days of the “dumb athlete” who only knows how to play sports was well on it’s way to dying.
We were watching Bryant be a lot more than just a retired legend. Along with LeBron James, we were seeing a living legend inspire the next generation of hoopers, on and off, the floor.
That was part of what was so devastating when the news broke that Bryant and eight others were killed in a helicopter accident. Black males still struggle with being given opportunities to be leaders of all people even in professional sports. Look no further than the issues that the NFL and it’s low IQ fan base. Anything that gives black males, who have earned a chance at a leadership role, an opportunity is a massive struggle. The appeal of the NBA is it’s the league where everyone gets a chance to lead. Black. White. Male. Female. It’s why Bryant’s successes off the court were so important, even to non-fans like me.
When the news broke yesterday, I was sitting in a restaurant with my son. Ironically enough, we stopped to eat after basketball practice. He was the one who broke to news to me. I wasn’t facing the TV and as it came on the screen, he said “Dad… Kobe died”. I really thought I misunderstood him. I thought I would turn around and it would be something about James passing Kobe on the all-time scoring list. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
As I sat there, I realized just how much I had started liking Kobe off the court. How my appreciation for his greatness that he achieved had little to nothing to do with basketball. It was his spirit. It was his willingness to share a little bit of himself to us.
My son is 13. He wasn’t around during Kobe’s championship years but there’s this thing called YouTube that has allowed him the relive those moments on the floor. But, what’s cool for my son is the Kobe he grew up with was the off the court Kobe. The one who showed the world he was more than just an athlete.
That’s the Kobe I’ll miss the most.