The life and times of Kobe Bryant were much more than the NBA’s sequel to Michael Jordan. Whether he was throwing lobs to Shaq, or hitting stupidly contested fadeaway jump shots, or training his daughter, one thing is for sure: the impact of the Mamba will live on well after his untimely demise.
With 5 rings to his name, Kobe “Bean” Bryant has cemented himself into basketball royalty. Coming into the league as an 18-year-old taking “his talents to the NBA” with all the confidence of prime-LeBron going to South Beach, who could have foreseen that he would live up to the lofty expectations that he was expected of AND that HE expected of himself.
Coming into that same league being compared to a Jordan at the height of his power… most would have caved; most did — look back at all those compared to Jordan: OJ Mayo, Deshawn Stephenson, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill — few had careers that would compare to the “Ghost that played in Chicago.” Even still, in his 20-year career as an LA Laker, he rose to the challenge. 1 MVP, 4 All-Star Game MVPs, 2 Olympic Rings, 5 NBA championship; he may not have matched Jordan, but he earned his respect as well as the respect of not only the basketball community whether that was players, coaches, analysts or fans, but the entire world.
It’s safe to say that his first few years were not easy. Many people seem to forget that. The air-balls in a Game 5 against the Jazz in a win-or-go-home, being a victim to narratives that he was “carried by Shaq” and would never be Mike, even coming off the bench in his early years as a player. But as the years rolled on, he would prove he was no sidekick, he would prove a man that would never back down. Game 4, 2000 NBA Finals (I would be born less than 2 months later): Shaq fouls out and ‘The Mamba’ would step up. Kobe would hit shot after shot, he would d-up Reggie Miller and then pull off a step back on Miller that he had taught him!!! I say all this to illustrate that Kobe was a student of the game well before Shaq left in 2003. He didn’t suddenly become the Black Mamba; he merely adopted the name, the Black Mamba became him.
The prime years of Kobe Bryant can be summarised by the accolades above, but alongside numerous scoring onslaughts was an obsessive dedication to being the best version of himself and duplicating that in whatever else he chose to do, including his signature shoes.
The Kobe Bryant line is still an iconic one. The combination of the comfortability and attention to detail that Nike put in the shoe to emulate Kobe’s strict attention to detail that he puts into his game created a collection of shoes that may arguably just be the best on-court basketball shoes EVER. From the court into the zeitgeist of sneaker culture, Kobe’s shoes were notorious. Kobe’s shoes soared in popularity after his death, but even in life shoes like the Kobe 6 “Grinches” were popular.
Looking at the Grinches in particular we can see that they were instrumental in changing the NBA’s code on shoes. Until very recently, NBA shoes had to match the colours of your team, with players being fined for breaking “team colour” rules (See PJ Tucker for the most flagrant breaking of these rules, he’s played in every grail from Yeezy 750s to Off White x Jordan 1 “Chicago”). Christmas was one of the few exceptions to this rule and Kobe broke out a colourway of the Kobe 6 model that has become so iconic that it is among the Mt. Rushmore of iconic basketball shoes.
There are countless stories of Kobe Bryant’s work ethic and ruthlessness — if you want to find them go on YouTube. But even in retirement, his training of his daughter Gigi and a bunch of other young aspiring basketball players at the Mamba Academy, the continuing of his Nike shoe line and even going on to win an Oscar for his short film ‘Dear Basketball,’ we were able to see that Kobe Bryant was more than basketball. He took his ‘Mamba Mentality’ mindset, one that he simply describes as a focus to be a better version of yourself today than you were yesterday and applied it into every part of his life. He studied sharks to greater understand how to defend Allen Iverson in the 2001 NBA Finals. He taught himself Spanish to communicate secretly with his teammates on the court. He even taught himself some Serbian to talk a bit of trash to Luka Doncic when he sat court-side at a Lakers/Mavericks game. He was a man who refused to be complacent, a man constantly looking to better himself in any and every way.
To those of you who never knew him, consider this the eulogy of Kobe Bryant, showing the highlights of who he was, maybe it will even entice you to learn more about him. All we can say is Thank You Kobe. Thank you for being you. For inspiring generations of people to be the best versions of themselves every day. For inspiring HOOPERS of all ages, backgrounds, shapes and sizes and showing them that you can do anything you can set your mind to on the court and off it. Whether that’s scoring 81 points, winning 5 NBA Championships, coming back from a torn Achilles or even just being a great ‘Girl Dad.’
There’s not much more we can say other than…..
Written By Alexander Bell For HOOPER.