From Hater To Follower: My Journey Through The Life Of Kobe Bryant
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Words and accolades don’t do Kobe Bryant justice.

For almost 25 years, Bryant ingrained himself into the fabric of this world. He transcended the game of basketball in a way that no one could ever imagine and that’s why this hurts so much. Whether you were a fan or not, he had a way of capturing all your energy and focus.

And I was on the extreme end of both sides in my life.

The first NBA game I ever attended was between the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle Supersonics on April 11, 1999. My brother and I were diehard Supersonics fans and wanted nothing more than to see Gary Payton crush the team’s golden boy.

The Supersonics won the game 113-109, but what gave us the most joy was a play near the end of the game. A steal led to a Payton fastbreak dunk and just because Bryant was in the vicinity, the former just dunked on the latter in our minds. Thinking back on it, we were as obnoxious as we could possibly be and my Mom told us she would never take us to another Lakers game again. She wasn’t lying.

Fast forward 17 years and those same two annoying kids were being even more obnoxiously loud as Bryant hit shot after shot to end his career in the only way he could. Everything in between just added to his legend. 81, 62 in three quarters, torn Achilles free throws and at times it just seemed unreal, but it was just Kobe.

Kobe was unapologetically Kobe at all times. You could love him or hate him but through sheer force of will, he was going to make you respect him.

He made the impossible seem possible because his work ethic was unlike any other. What the average person would consider going above and beyond was probably a three out of 10 on the Kobe scale. He had levels of drive beyond comprehension to the point that every story told about him somehow seemed believable because well… it’s Kobe.

Plenty of players leave behind a legacy of plays, shots, and moments, but Bryant’s everlasting legacy was the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ The idea that no mountain was too high to climb, no goal too far fetched to accomplish. By going to work, grinding it out, and getting every single ounce of effort out of yourself, there is no way you can’t be successful and that extends far beyond basketball.

The Mamba Mentality applies to every walk of life and any medium you choose to pursue which is is why it resonated so deeply and why this loss hurts so much on a global scale. We were just beginning to witness Bryant apply it to something other than basketball and it was astounding. Who would’ve thought we would see Kobe winning an Oscar? Kobe — that’s who.

Most importantly and most heartbreakingly, Bryant was putting that mentality towards fatherhood. You could see the joy in his eyes when he talked about Gigi’s love for the game and how much he truly enjoyed passing on his gifts to her. Empowering the next generation was something he always took pride in and she was to be the next coming.

Seeing Kobe at courtside teaching Gigi made me dream of the days I’ll be able to do that with my kids one day and those kinds of moments are absolutely priceless.

I’ve been struggling to figure out why someone who has dealt with loss to those closest to him can hurt so much from someone I’ve never met and it’s because for as long as Kobe has been around, I’ve gone through every single range of emotion possible as if he was family.

From annoyance, jealousy, and definitely some hate to pure joy and excitement to awe, adulation, and inspiration to grief, disbelief, and sadness.

Kobe was everything to me and so many others and to not see him live out the life he deserved hurts. However, not taking what he taught us and living out our lives in that same way would be a greater disservice.

LeBron James said that Kobe’s legacy is now his responsibility. Nah… you’ve got company on that front, King.