Dear Kobe Bean Bryant,
My week started with me waking up to the news of a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
According to the passenger manifest, nine people were on the helicopter, you were there along with your daughter, Gianna.
Official reports have expressed how all nine perished in the tragic accident.
Not a few seconds after reading the news, my social media feed was flooded with tweets, posts, messages, emojis, and all the other ubiquitous indicators that something was trending.
The world, like the helicopter, crashed, Kobe. We were all crushed by the news. Not just the basketball or sports world.
I went to my day job with fellow teachers and students asking me about how you died, about what happened.
Some even offered me condolences, despite the fact we’re obviously not relatives and despite the fact I’ve seen you in the flesh only three times ever.
But that’s how you have affected people, Kobe. To borrow the cliché, you were “bigger than basketball.”
You were a winner on the court and off it. You were an NBA champion, an NBA Most Valuable Player, an NBA All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, an Oscars winner, a novelist, and a great family man.
Where there walls, you scaled them, if not toppled them. Where there were limits, you pushed them if not defied them. Whenever people said you couldn’t, that fueled you to achieve unprecedented things.
I have to admit, Kobe, that when you first entered the league, I wasn’t too enamored with you. I felt like you were another prep-to-pro wannabe hotshot on the coattails of Moses Malone and Kevin Garnett.
Seeing you play in the late 90s, I felt like you were another Michael Jordan copycat, someone who wanted The Mantle, but couldn’t handle the grind.
When you won your three-peat with Shaquille O’Neal, I have to admit that for me, it was all about the Big Diesel.
For me, you seemed all talk and all show, and even if you had game, you oftentimes looked too arrogant.
But time affords so much perspective. As you entered the twilight of your career, I no longer followed you with annoyance or loathing. Nope. That transformed into silent admiration to a man, who was so curious about the world that he was willing to go through anything to find the answers he was seeking.
And boy, were you always seeking. It seemed like in any endeavor you undertook, you had that relentless need to find or reach or claim whatever it is you set yourself out for.
That became what is now called as the “Mamba Mentality” — that unrelenting, no excuses mantra of just powering through and achieving one’s goals.
Beyond that, however, what tugged at my heartstrings was the fact that you were accompanying your daughter to a camp.
That was what really made me tear up. You were on that helicopter not as a player or endorser or in any other professional capacity.
You were a father holding your daughter’s hand. You were her companion.
And as a father, I couldn’t help but be affected by that. It resonated with me.
Until now, it’s your images with Gianna, your videos of helping her train or understand the game that really get me.
Kobe, you’re in heaven now, probably with the late NBA commissioner David Stern, who called out your name all those years ago in 1996.
You’re teaching your daughter to play hoops with the angels, looking down on us, hoping we would continue to do our best living out your Mamba Mentality — always be curious, always be focused, don’t let anything stop you from achieving the good you set out to do.
We will never hear your Hall of Fame speech, Kobe, but I guess we don’t need to because your actions spoke much, much louder than any words could.
Thank you, Kobe, for showing us how to be “bigger than basketball.”