JOSEPH LITTAUA WRITES – It’s 2006, the last season when the legendary Kobe Bryant will wear #8. Game 4 of the 1st round of the NBA playoffs is between the 2nd seed Phoenix Suns and the 7th seed Los Angeles Lakers. It’s overtime, with 6 seconds left on the clock. Because of a “jump ball” foul called on the previous play, the players are set up for a tip-off at midcourt. Score? 98-97 with the Suns in the lead. The ball gets tipped off to Kobe, who dribbles down the court, and all you hear on television is NBA broadcaster Mike Breen screaming, “Bryant for the win! BAAAANG!” The sound of cheering is immediate. There is no shortage of laughter, crying, and amazement at the man known as the “Black Mamba.”
In important ways, Kobe was the reason many in the current generation of athletes decided to join a sport and try to be the best. So many people, whether interested or not in basketball, knew of Kobe Bryant, knew of “The Mamba Mentality,” and knew of his legacy as one of the best basketball players of all time. The world’s top superstars in the athletic world, regardless of their sport, recognized the greatness of Kobe Bryant. To hear of his death and the death of his thirteen- year -old daughter Gianna was more than just heartbreaking — it stopped the world in its tracks.
In China, Kobe became the most-searched topic on Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform. “Kobe is Dead” became its most popular tag, with more than 1.7 billion reads and 1.4 million engagements on the platform. In the Philippines, mere hours after his death became public, a community center and court were named after him; the center was decorated with multiple paintings and murals of Kobe. At the famed Metro Manila basketball court, a giant mural of Kobe and his daughter Gianna was painted within 24 hours of the news, and according to Mike Swift, the artist who led this project, artists who are working on the project plan to continue making tributes until the burial of Kobe Bryant. In Japan, Kizo Hisamoto, mayor of Kobe, Japan, issued a statement about the connection the city had with Bryant, as Kobe himself was actually named after the city. Taiwan’s President even issued a statement about Kobe on Twitter, stating that “Kobe inspired a generation of young Taiwanese basketball players.”
As perhaps you can see now, Kobe Bryant was more than just a basketball player and a legend. He was a global icon. His “Mamba Mentality” has motivated so many players of the NBA and other sports as well. But in this young writer’s opinion, perhaps the most tragic thing about the sudden passing of Kobe is the following: his second career, the one after basketball, which also promised to be legendary, has been stilled. Just a few years back, Kobe won an Academy Award for his short film “Dear Basketball.” His daughter, Gianna, was training to play like him on the court, even taking the nickname “Mambacita” as a tribute to her father. Kobe had just started multiple businesses such as Granity Studios, a media company that focuses on the storytelling aspects of the sports world, as well as Bryant Stibel, a venture capital firm which showed Kobe’s “Mamba Mentality” as he made investments in multiple companies early and quickly. But tragedy is indiscriminate. Even those we think to be immortal can be struck. In the words of Marcus Morris, a professional player for the New York Knicks, “Superman is not supposed to die. To us he was Superman.”
Maybe that’s why so many of us in the current generation of college students, high school students, and young adults want to continue the tradition of Kobe’s fadeaway jump shot. If you don’t happen to know what this is about: Many of us find it fun to yell “Kobe!” when we crumple up a paper ball and shoot it into a trashcan. So as an LA kid who grew up watching Bryant’s career, who watched his rise to glory with Shaquille O’Neal, who saw his redemption after critics said he could never win an NBA championship without Shaq, and who would watch his last game where he scored 60 points in his final win as a Los Angeles Laker, we want to keep the tradition alive. Why was that 2006 moment in the game when Mike Breen screamed, “Bryant for the win!” so important to me? That’s when I truly thought Kobe became “The Black Mamba.”