The tears just won’t stop flowing. My dad called me in a panic yesterday afternoon to break the news before I saw it online. He knew that Kobe was my favorite athlete of all time. Scratch that, one of my favorite people of all time. Kobe was on my Mt. Rushmore of people I never met but still adored. Right above Barack Obama and Kanye West.
If you know me then you know how much I talk about him. My girlfriend loves to give me a rough time about how much money I spend on his shoes. My friends get bored with how every conversation I bring back around to him. My mom and sisters probably think I have an unhealthy obsession.
Kobe Bean Bryant came into my life at the critical time when a boy starts looking up to athletes like superheroes.
My dad is the biggest Lakers fan I know, so naturally he had me watching games from a young age.
My first Kobe memory was the “Air Ball Game” in Utah. A teenage Kobe put up 5 airballs in an overtime loss to John Stockton and Karl Malone. As soon the game ended, my dad pointed to the scrawny teenager and said, “Son, that kid right there is going to pass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time one day.”
My love for Kobe was born at that moment. Pat Sr. and I spent countless, mind-numbing hours in the Hunter Middle School gym in the 1990’s and 2000’s working on my game. Whenever I would get tired or want to miss a day, he would say something like “Do you think Kobe is taking today off?” or “Kobe doesn’t go to the club – his dates are in the gym.”
“Mamba mentality” had not been coined yet, but I had it. I was a disciple of the snake. This was all pre-internet, so I had to work twice as hard to get anything from Laker-land. Both of my parents knew how much I looked up to him and would grab a jersey or “NBA Courtside on N64 with Kobe Bryant” whenever they saw anything.
More important than any material possession was the good times Kobe provided my dad and me. All the points, all the wins, all the championships. Kobe was beyond reproach in our household.
The elusiveness made him even more intriguing. Word would drift from the west coast about him dubbing himself “the black mamba”. How he was changing his number from 8 to 24. The 81-point game. The Spike Lee documentary “Kobe: Doin’ Work” which I still watch at least once a year.
By the time I had graduated high school and started college, Kobe tacked on 2 more championships for good measure. Trust me when I say, my college roommate Aaron (a fellow Kobe fanatic) and I celebrated those victories.
Even when Kobe got old and his body started breaking down, I drew inspiration from him. The amount of work he put into getting his body for games was amazing.
His final game, you know the one, 60 points against the Utah Jazz. That was a clarion call to mamba fans everywhere. His career was over, but his legacy was cemented.
By 2017, my playing days were long over, but I was still applying everything he taught me into my adult life. I ran for Chattanooga City Council, and when the race would get tough, I would watch his documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse”.
During that campaign, I would look back at this article I saved which motivated me. Someone wrote, “the Lakers aren’t going anywhere in Kobe’s final season, but the black mamba is out for blood anywhere he can get it.”
You got that right. Not in a violent or malicious way, but a competitive way. I knew I was getting my butt kicked in that election, but you were going to feel me – believe that.
Kobe didn’t just take it easy after he retired. He dedicated himself to his family and to his business ventures. Body Armor, Mamba Sports Academy, the ESPN show “Detail”, the books, his girls’ basketball team.
He took that same competitive streak and applied it to the next chapter of his life. Whenever he would go on a book tour and hit the nightly talk shows, I would copy the way he dressed and carried himself. I sit cross-legged like him now because it looked so smooth.
For a quarter century, I have looked westward for inspiration and influence. That’s going to be a huge void in my life. My friends and family know that. Everybody was blowing up my phone yesterday and I love them for it.
But this wasn’t supposed to be how it ended. Not Kobe. Not his 13-year old girl Gigi. Not the fellow passengers on the helicopter. They had so much left to give and contribute to society.
I’m heartbroken. Vanessa and her 3 daughters don’t deserve this. This is a horrible nightmare. Why is life so cruel?
I lost a mentor who I never met, the world lost an icon, and most importantly the Bryant family lost everything.
I wish I had words of wisdom to impart, but I don’t. We just have to pray for the family, and we have to do our best to keep our thoughts of Kobe and Gigi positive because I know it will reach them in heaven.
For now, I’m just going to cry it out. I believe it was Joe Biden (a man who knows more about loss than any of us) who said, “eventually when you think of those you lost – instead of crying, a smile will come to your face.”
I pray to God that Vanessa and her kids get that relief sooner rather than later. They are the ones that need to be wrapped in God’s arms as they try to deal with this unthinkable loss.
Whew – so I don’t know how to wrap it up. I know there is so much I’m forgetting.
Thank you, Kobe, for everything. I’m still going to apply everything you taught me to life. I’m still going to be surly and shrewd, I’m still going to work myself to exhaustion, and hopefully one day I get to tell my kids about THE BLACK MAMBA.
LONG LIVE KOBE!
Pat Benson has been a sideline reporter, P.A. announcer and radio personality. Tweet him @Pat_Benson_Jr.