When I first heard about the news of Kobe Bryant, it felt as if the world was crashing down on me. As a California native who was raised around the area of Los Angeles, I grew up under the Laker culture; I was part of the city that bled purple and gold.
Bryant had a 20 year tenure with the Lakers, but wasn’t originally supposed to be. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1996 draft by the Charlotte Hornets, but was immediately traded to Los Angeles thereafter.
In the first half of his career, Bryant wore number eight and played as that for a decade before making the switch to 24 in 2006. In that time, he won three consecutive championships from 2000-2002.
Bryant wearing No. 24 was the earliest memories I have of the NBA star. Two back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 are the stories I hold by. Two gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics are also among the memories I remember growing up.
Growing up with friends that had such strong roots to the game gave me a great insight into the world of basketball. Fantasy teams, pickup games and watching the Lakers games together was part of the culture I grew up in. We were fans of the game.
Pick up basketball games was where we honored Bryant the most. If any of us got the open shot, we called out Bryant’s first name with confidence, hoping to make the shot. Regardless if the ball made it into the basket, the impact was all the same: we idolized Bryant’s ability to shoot and to play. Some of us believed we could be like him one day.
Our gut feeling was that by saying his name, we would make the shot. We went crazy about it if we scored, believing that Kobe’s Mamba Mentality was with us in that moment.
My father always told me the story about how Kobe operated as a player. He was the first one to arrive at practice and the last one to leave practice. He outworked everyone to get better and helped his teammates get better. His work ethic reflected his success as both a player and a competitor.
I took the Mamba Mentality in my regards for sports. When I played baseball in high school, I honed in on being the first one in and the last one out. If there were extra stretches I needed done before practice, I did it early before I practiced. After practice, I conditioned and did sprints on my own time to get better. I wanted to get better and wanted to be the best, but be the best version of myself.
Although I have never played basketball before, his impact on me as a native to Los Angeles was measured.
But for the students on Valpo’s campus that do play the game seriously, their impact is much deeper than mine. They are different in the sense that many of them wanted to be like Kobe and play in the NBA.
When the news arrived about Bryant, many of the players went to social media to express their thoughts about the sudden loss of the iconic star. Many felt heartbroken about how this tragedy suddenly came out of nowhere.
“It made me sick, like literally. I couldn’t even look at my phone right after I saw it. Somebody like that, such an icon to the world. He didn’t just impact basketball: he impacted everybody,” said sophomore guard Daniel Sackey.
For others, they reflected about the influence Bryant brought to them in terms of his philosophy as a competitor. The consistent theme that Bryant spoke on was the idea of the preparation before playing against your opponent.
“He was definitely influential to me as far as the way he thought about everything. He was always prepared. He talked about being prepared is the most important thing,” said junior forward Mileek McMillan.
However Bryant influenced you, he was undoubtedly one of the most influential competitors of this current generation. He was the gold and purple light that illuminated in the hearts of his fans, teammates, and loved ones. He was the glue that held Laker nation together. May Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the rest of the passengers rest easy after this tragedy.