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Mourning The Mamba – The Shocking Death Of Kobe Bryant


Last updated 1/27/2020 at 3:41pm

This one hurts. A lot.

Sunday’s tragic news that Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter, Gianna, 13, were among nine people that perished following a helicopter crash in California was nothing short of unfathomable.

I actually spent most of Sunday spending time with a friend that lives in Sherwood Forest – beyond the purview of cell phone reception.

I left to head home a little bit before 7:30 p.m. and as I headed down the mountain toward Brevard, my cell phone began buzzing when I was back in signal range.

I opened up one of the text message notifications I received from a friend. It consisted of two texts – “Sad day,” said the first; “RIP Kobe,” said the second.

I nearly ran off the road. My eyes saw the words, but my mind had no idea what was going on. In the moment, I couldn’t process the truth.

I pulled over as quickly as I could, in the parking lot of Carr’s Hill Baptist Church. I opened my phone, hoping for anything but confirmation.

But within seconds, both on social media and various news outlets, the painful truth poured over me.

My hands shook. My stomach dropped. It was as numbing a feeling as I can remember.

Kobe was gone. He really was gone.

Kobe entered the NBA fresh out of high school in 1996. That draft class included my two favorite players of all time – Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.

I’m 32 years old. Growing up watching basketball in the 1990s, Michael Jordan was like Zeus – sitting atop Mount Olympus, high above mere mortals.

But for people around my age, Kobe was like our Jordan. We got to watch him grow from an 18-year-old rookie to winning three consecutive NBA championships – which eventually became five NBA titles – to becoming a global icon whose “Mamba mentality” exceeded the realm of basketball and of sports.

Not all the times were good. Kobe wasn’t perfect. None of us are.

However, throughout all the tough times – some of which were of his own creation – Kobe persevered and came back stronger.

In 2013, Kobe tore his Achilles tendon playing against the Golden State Warriors.

It’s the kind of injury that many athletes never recover from. It’s the kind of injury that most wouldn’t even try to push through.

But Kobe was different. Through the pain, he stepped to the free throw line, knocked down both shots, then walked off the court on his own power.

That’s who he was – the ultimate competitor that did everything on his own terms.

After he retired in 2016, Kobe’s interest shifted to off-the-court issues, most notably serving as an ambassador for the game of basketball.

He opened up youth academies. He partnered with various charities. He mentored younger players in the league.

He also ventured into the world of media, winning an Oscar in 2018 for his short film titled, “Dear Basketball,” which he described as his parting love letter to the game after he announced his retirement.

But the biggest part of his life was his family – his wife, Vanessa, and their three children – Natalia, Bianka and Gianna. Kobe became a father for a fourth time last July, as Vanessa gave birth to another daughter, Capri.

That Gianna died with her father at such a young age is incomprehensible. Only, it’s sadly fitting.

The two had an indescribable bond over their love of basketball. The only reason they were in that helicopter on Sunday was to fly Gianna to a basketball game at Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy, which he founded in 2018.

They were frequently seen courtside at NBA games and Kobe’s social media posts were, more often that not, highlighting Gianna for her accomplishments on the court.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s events, many NBA reporters spoke to how Kobe seemed at peace in his retirement and found more pride in watching his daughter’s accomplishments than he did reflecting on his own career.

Once, he spoke about how others questioned him about his feelings as to not having a son to carry on his basketball legacy.

But Kobe wasn’t worried.

“(Gianna) is like, ‘I got this.’ I’m like, ‘that’s right. You do. You got this,’” he said.

That’s who he was; a living legend ready to take a backseat and give the full stage to his daughter.

That’s what makes this hurt the most – the fact that Kobe was so happy and so ready to enjoy family, friends and other pursuits away from the court.

But now he’s gone. It still doesn’t feel real.

I didn’t sleep well Sunday night. I woke up several times, and with each instance, I had to realize that Kobe Bryant was dead and had to feel my heart sink each time.

This hurts a lot. And it’s going to hurt for some time.

There’s nothing left to say except, goodbye, Kobe.

Thank you. For everything.


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