Jan 27, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; A long-standing mural in Los Angeles has become a make-shift vigil to honor Los Angeles Laker legend, Kobe Bryant. Bryant was killed in a helicopter accident on Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Sandy Hooper via USA TODAY Sports
It can’t be real.
It doesn’t feel real.
It is real.
Kobe Bryant is dead at the age of 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others who were aboard a helicopter in southern California on Sunday.
It doesn’t feel real.
“My kids were napping, I had no idea, I was watching tape and my brother texted me,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said while recalling the moment he found out about Bryant’s passing. “I was like, ‘What is he talking about?’ My wife texted me from the back when she was trying to put the kids down. I was like, ‘Man, let me check if this is real.'”
How can it be?
One day after LeBron James passed Kobe for third-place on the NBA’s all-time scoring chart, the greatest offensive player of a generation is dead much too soon. Even after gracing us with his talents for two decades, he still had so much to give the game.
Kobe Bryant was more than a basketball player. He was a hero, an inspiration, an icon. We will always remember the five NBA titles, the 18 All-Star game appearances, two Olympic gold medals, the one NBA MVP trophy and the epic scoring performances that left us all on the edge of our seats.
I am not old enough to remember Michael Jordan playing in his prime, but I was lucky enough to be witness to the closest thing the game of basketball will ever see to “His Airness” reincarnated.
“I grew up on Jordan and Pippen,” Prohm said. “They grew up on Kobe and, now, Steph Curry and all these guys.”
The thing that set Kobe apart from others was his dedication to the work ethic greatness required. The stories of Kobe waking up teammates, trainers or coaches at 4 o’clock in the morning hoping to get a workout in are countless.
He was so dedicated to his craft that while normal people slept, Kobe obsessed over being great. He wanted to be the absolute greatest version of himself he possibly could be — and he succeeded all the way up to his final night in a Laker uniform in 2016 when he amazed us all one last time by scoring 60 points and hitting the game-winning shot in a meaningless game against Utah.
But, it was never truly meaningless — at least not to Kobe. When it came to basketball, nothing was too small to be considered meaningless.
That was the “Mamba Mentality.” That is the thing we cannot allow future generations of basketball players to forget or never learn about. That is what achieving epic, transcendent greatness requires.
“The biggest thing (Kobe) talked about for me was that we all have fears and he doesn’t really see failure as a thing, it’s more disappointment,” Iowa State sophomore Tyrese Haliburton said when asked to describe what the Mamba Mentality is to him. “I was actually just watching a video earlier and he talks about the way fear works for him is that we all have dreams. We’re all just scared to chase them because we’re scared of failing. There’s really no such thing as failing. For me, it’s just going in and doing the best at what you can do.”
The game of basketball will never be the same after this.
The sports world will never be the same.
Kobe was supposed to grow old and gray and cheer along with us as the next generation of star cagers carried the torch and the game forward. He was supposed to be there to mentor the group of basketball players he inspired, including his daughter, who had become a star in her own right on the hardwood.
“What Kobe would have wanted anybody to do is learn from what he did in his lifetime,” Haliburton said. “Obviously, it’s really sad, but we’ve got to keep his legacy going however we can do that.”
It feels like the balls should stop bouncing, the crowd should stop cheering and the sweet sound of orange leather tickling twine should never be heard again.
But, that is certainly the last thing Kobe Bryant would have wanted. He would have expected us to keep cheering, keep dribbling and, always, ALWAYS, keep shooting.
“I wish you could live your life every day thinking the way you do on days that tragedy happens,” Prohm said. “Because, man, we’d all be a helluva a lot better wouldn’t we? If we could keep that focus… That’s what’s hard to do.”
That focus was the Mamba Mentality. It is what Kobe would have wanted us to carry forward from this epic tragedy that took away one of our brightest stars while he still had so much left to give the game.
Tell someone you love them and give them a hug. Live your life with a smile on your face and dedicate yourself to striving for greatness each and every moment of each and every day.
And the next time you pick up that orange round leather ball that James Naismith gave us and Kobe Bryant used as his tool in amazing us all, think about channeling the Mamba Mentality.
It is real.
But, this still doesn’t feel like it can be.