No Way, Not Kobe: Reflecting on the legacy left behind by Kobe Bryant

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Matt Kirkle
CONTRIBUTOR

Kobe Bryant during his playing days. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

It has been nine days since Kobe passed away tragically in a helicopter accident along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. It was so unimaginable that we have to keep reminding ourselves that it actually happened.

I was gathering my final notes before MavRadio’s call for the Omaha women’s basketball game against Purdue Fort Wayne on Sunday—we were about 15 minutes from the game starting. Our color commentator broke the initial news report to me from TMZ. Just like everyone else, I didn’t believe it at first.

There’s no way. Not Kobe.

Then the confirming reports started flooding in … it was true. How could it be? Kobe was Superman. A deity. He wasn’t supposed to die—not like this. Not ever.

It made me feel sick to my stomach. A man I had never met before left this empty feeling in my gut after he passed. It really felt like a bad dream. I was waiting for the horrible punchline that he was fine. No, no, no.

There’s no way. Not Kobe.

I didn’t feel like doing my job after the news broke – a lot of sportscasters around the country felt the same way I did. The tragedy circulated around Baxter Arena like a wildfire. I began to see the facial expressions on the arena staff, UNO coaches and fans drain as they looked at their phones. People started showing their phones to the people around them. It was everywhere in minutes. One of basketball’s most influential figures was taken from us moments before tip-off. You knew right away, this was a “Where were you when it happened?” kind of moment.

There’s no way. Not Kobe.

This hurt a lot, for so many reasons. His impact on basketball speaks for itself. An 18-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team, five-time NBA Champion – you can’t make this stuff up. He changed the game, and his undying dedication to be the best basketball player he could be inspired generations of people like me to pick up a ball. He didn’t care how hard others worked – he always knew he was going to work harder. His coined ambition, the “Mamba Mentality,” constantly influenced people like me to chase my dreams no matter how scary they may be.

He had just retired from basketball and embraced being a dad with open arms. It was beautiful. Kobe was no longer the competitive robot who never smiled while silencing his enemies, night-after-night. He was no longer missing his daughter’s life unfold because of long road-trips. He was a fun-loving dad who was passing his love down to his daughter. He was constantly seen around Los Angeles without an entourage, with his family, living his life. Finally, worry-free, not trying to dethrone Popovich and the Spurs, or Doc Rivers’ Celtics, he was just … a dad. That was cool to me. He took his passion and commitment to basketball and carried it over into his parenting. He made being a dad cool.

There’s no way. Not Kobe.

It wasn’t supposed to come to a crashing halt. He was supposed to be old and grey, being assisted to sit courtside at Lakers games in the house he built. He was supposed to watch Gianna excel in basketball, become a spitting image of himself, while influencing young girls to pursue basketball the same way he did—relentlessly. He was supposed to bring us to tears during his Hall of Fame induction speech in August, reminiscing on his best moments while reminding us of all of the memories he has created for us throughout our lives.

There’s no way. Not Kobe.

What breaks my soul the most is thinking of his final moments. As a father, protecting your children comes above all else. Defending your kid becomes a mission in life, but you understand that you can’t defend them from everything. It is a horrifying realization that, in that moment, there was nothing he could do to save his little girl, his pride and joy. That is what still keeps me up at night. Nobody deserves to live their last moments like that. It haunts me.

He was a part of all of us in the sports community. The world of athletics sweeps us away from life’s headaches. It gives us an opportunity to sit down after a long day and root for good—while wishing defeat upon evil. For a moment, you are engulfed in a game that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of life, and that’s okay. I grew up hating the Lakers – I was captivated by the Boston-trio of Paul Pierce, KG and Ray Allen. But, as a child, I was infatuated with how Kobe played the game. He was so methodical. He was one step ahead of everyone else. My brothers and I would mimic some of his best work whenever we would get our chances on the hardwood.

Even though Kobe never knew most of us, we knew him. He changed us. He is a part of who we are. He made us want to work harder and chase dreams we couldn’t comprehend yet. He took us away from life’s hardships and gave us smiles and memories that will last until we depart from this earth with him. My love of basketball wouldn’t be the same had the Black Mamba never existed.

Now he’s gone, and we can’t make any sense of it. I can say it eight times, 24 times or 81 times, and it still feels like a nightmare. I can now only reflect on all of the wonderful things he’s taught me over the years. He assisted in helping me fall in love with basketball; he showed me the correct way to hunt down a dream; and he helped illustrate what true passion looks like.

We all died a little bit on Jan. 26, 2020. Kobe reminded us on this infamous day that life is short. It can be arbitrarily taken away at any given moment. But, living life with the Mamba Mentality and attacking every possible opportunity presented to us will help us all honor his legacy.

His most iconic quote from his Oscar-winning animated short-film called “Dear Basketball” still makes me choke up whenever I hear it now.

“You asked for my hustle … I gave you my heart.”

For being a basketball legend, a beloved father and husband and an icon across the globe for the remainder of time …

Thank you, Kobe. For everything.

 

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