How Kobe Bryant gifted a Southern California native with more than just basketball

Undated picture of mural of Kobe Bryant on the Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, just across the street from the Staples Center where Bryant spent much of his career. Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26, 2019. | Photo by Pixelbay, St. George News

FEATURE — On Sunday morning, a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant.

The crash sent shockwaves throughout the entire NBA community and the city of Los Angeles. As a kid living near Los Angeles, to me, Bryant was basketball. He inspired a generation of people, including myself.

Growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, about 45 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to see the Lakers on a regular basis. My dad signed up for season tickets when Phil Jackson was brought in as the head coach of the Lakers, and the rest was history. The very first Lakers game I attended was the final game played at the Great Western Forum.

For 14 years, I grew up in the Staples Center. My love for basketball blossomed as I watched Bryant do what he did, and those memories shaped me into the sports fan I am today. I learned to love basketball in that building, later translating that into my career and my passion.

In the early years when I would attend games with my dad, I’d fall asleep sometimes before halftime, which is when he would carry me to the car to head home. As I grew older, I was able to stay at the games longer, and those games are some of my most vivid memories. I was able to see Bryant succeed at the highest level regularly.

FILE – Vanessa Bryant, from left, Kobe Bryant, Natalia Bryant and Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant at the world premiere of “A Wrinkle in Time” in Los Angeles. Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41.  Los Angeles, California, Feb. 26, 2018 | Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision via the Associated Press, St. George News

On Jan. 22, 2006, my entire family was lucky enough to attend a Lakers game together. This was a rarity for my family because normally we only had two seats with our season tickets, but we got some extra tickets from a friend. That night, I saw greatness. Bryant went 28-46 from the field on his way to the second-highest scoring total in NBA history, 81 points. As the entire arena chanted, “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe,” my family sat there in awe.

Another fond memory I have in Staples Center was game seven of the 2010 NBA finals against the Boston Celtics. My dad and I attended a couple of games through the series, but game seven was the most notable. It had to be one of the ugliest games I have ever seen, but the Lakers kept pushing, ultimately getting the win, 83-79. The Lakers avenged their loss in the 2008 NBA finals, and arguably the greatest rivalry in sports history was brought to the forefront of professional sports.

As I stood in the top deck of Staples Center and watched Bryant stand on the media table as confetti fell on him, I wasn’t able to fathom just what I was witnessing. It was greatness.

Those 14 years I spent going to Lakers games are why I love sports as much as I do. My hope is that I can attack my career and my everyday life with the ferocity Bryant had on a daily basis. He showed everyone that if you work hard enough and dedicate time to whatever it is that you do, you too can be great.

This is a great lesson for kids coming up and playing basketball.

“I think the biggest thing for me is what everyone else says, just how hard he played and the competitor he was,” Crimson Cliffs head boys basketball coach Kasey Winters said. “It didn’t matter who he was playing, who he was guarding or who was guarding him, he was going to give it everything he had. And I think that’s a good message for kids at this age. You’ve got to play hard to give yourself a chance.”

Bryant was a rare breed. The kind of player who could miss 10, 11 or 12 shots and still have the confidence to shoot another one. That mamba mentality is something that’s rarely seen, and that is why Kobe was as respected as he was.

On a TNT tribute to Bryant, Dwayne Wade said, “Everyone wants to put us against him, but we were just trying to make him proud of us.”

Kobe Bryant, 17, jokes with the media as he holds his Los Angeles Lakers jersey during a news conference at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, died in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41. Inglewood, California, July 12, 1996 | Photo by Susan Sterner via the Associated Press, St. George News

When the day came for Bryant to retire, he left the court by dropping 60 points on the Utah Jazz. After the game, surrounded by former teammates and his family, he finished by saying, “mamba out.”

It was hard to believe that his career was over, but the NBA moved on with new young stars and some of the same dominant players who competed against Bryant. He moved on to his life outside of basketball. He won an Oscar and wrote books, but most of all he was a father.

Videos of him and his daughter Gianna went viral on twitter as he sat courtside explaining the game of basketball. He was often seen at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks coaching his daughter’s teams and supporting his family.

“I have a life, and I have my routine at home,” Bryant said in an interview with Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times in October 2019. “It’s not that I don’t want to go (to Lakers games), but I’d rather be giving (Bianka) a shower and sing Barney songs to her. I played 20 years, and I missed those moments before. For me to make the trip up to Staples Center, that means I’m missing an opportunity to spend another night with my kids when I know how fast it goes. … I want to make sure the days that I’m away from them are days that I absolutely have to be. I’d rather be with them than doing anything else.”

He had the mamba mentality even when it came to being a father and a family man. This is something everybody should pursue with their children. Go to every event they participate in, be there for them in their time of need and put them before everything else.

I am most thankful that Bryant was able to create memories that I will cherish forever. My dad and I bonded over the Lakers. We bled purple and gold, and he was a big reason why. We would eat, sleep and breathe Lakers basketball, and Bryant made it possible.

I never got to meet Bryant, but I did give him a high-five as he headed out onto the court during the 2010 NBA finals. I remember that day like it was yesterday. As he came out of the locker room, he had this look of desire, focus and drive. As I turned around, my dad turned to me and said, “You know what that look means? It’s winning time.”

“That guy, he’s a winner. And I think he instilled that in his teammates and instilled that in his own kids and the people he coached,” Pine View head boys basketball coach Ryan Eves said. “He’s just a winner.”

It seemed as if the man was immortal and almost invincible. He had so many “wow” moments. His clutch shots were the ones you would reenact in the driveway, his Nike sneakers revolutionized basketball shoes as we know them today, and as you would fade away with a crunched up college ruled paper in your hand, he was the reason you’d yell “Kobe” at the top of your lungs.

His loss is one that made the world pause. The impact he had was felt from the United States to the Philippines and beyond.

The one overwhelming message I have taken from Bryant’s sudden death and the many times I saw Bryant in action, is that we should all attack our lives with that same mamba mentality.

Don’t settle for mediocrity. Strive to be the best that you can be every single day because you never know what could happen. Don’t leave any regrets in your path of life. Pursue your relationships, friendships, school work, career or anything else that you do with the fierceness you saw in Bryant throughout his career.

Whether you are taking a test, going to work or simply finishing a menial task, do it with a purpose, and do it to the best of your abilities.

Without having ever met the man, I am genuinely grateful for the life lessons and memories he gifted me. He definitely had a major impact on my life and the lives of many others.

Remember, make sure you live every day to the fullest. Because I know that’s what Bryant would expect of you.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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