On Sunday morning, January 26, 2020, it felt like the world suddenly came to a stop. From the diehard basketball fan to those who knew nothing beyond his name, the death of Kobe Bryant blindsided many of us. After receiving the tragic news of the helicopter crash that killed all nine onboard, including Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, we all thought it was just another false death report looking to grab views. No one wanted to believe it. I certainly didn't.
You're telling me that the competitor who struck fear in the eyes of his opponents every time he stepped foot on the court, the five-time NBA Champion who was an idol to so many of us, the athlete who seemed to defy all odds with the "Mamba Mentality," died in an accident? You're telling me that Gianna, along with her teammates, was also on board when the tragedy hit?
The devastation seemed too horrific to be real. As Kobe's idol, Michael Jordan, solemnly expressed, "When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died." That hit home for a lot of us. Several months have passed since, and it's still hard to believe that they were taken from us so soon.
Even if you aren't a sports fan, it's impossible to deny that the world's reaction to this tragedy speaks volumes about the cultural impact Kobe had. In the words of former US president Barack Obama, "Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents."
Despite winning the MVP award and 5 NBA Championships during a remarkable 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, his influence is best captured in his letter to the sport. In his Oscar award-winning short film, "Dear Basketball," Kobe's letter personified the essence of who he was as a person and how we fans will remember him. "You asked for my hustle; I gave you my heart." That's how Kobe described his admirable dedication to the game, and that's how the numerous lives he touched will keep him in memory. He proved to us that if you work beyond what you're asked to do and stay resilient when faced with the roadblocks on your journey–there's no limit to what you can achieve. He instilled into us the "Mamba Mentality" that made him one of the most influential figures of the 21st century, a mindset that represents the legacy he built from the ground up. A legacy characterized by passion and triumph that fans continue to pay forward.
The most heart-warming dedications to Kobe and Gianna are the hundreds of murals painted around the globe commemorating the Mamba and Mambacita. In Southern California alone, home of the LA Lakers, there have been 225 murals painted in their honor. Fans from the Philippines to Spain have created 93 murals internationally for the late basketball legend and his daughter, illustrating the extraordinary impact Kobe had on a global scale. In Orange County, California, August 24 was officially declared as Kobe Bryant Day to honor the Laker, who wore the numbers 8 and 24 during his career with the franchise. But perhaps the most famous dedication of all that we continue to make is the one phrase we yell when throwing away trash or chucking up a three-pointer at the park: "Kobe!"
Nearly a month following the tragedy, Kobe and Gianna's memorial took place in the Staples Center. Family, friends, and a select few fans packed the 20,000 seats of the Lakers' home stadium. Former teammates and close friends Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan gave their eulogy to the man who inspired the best of the best. Renowned artists Beyonce and Alicia Keys also performed during this celebration of Kobe and Gianna's lives. It was a memorial that exemplified his powerful influence, whether you've met him in person or only seen him through a TV screen.
As for how the Lakers are dealing with the passing of their former star and his beloved daughter, the team began to sport their "Black Mamba" edition jerseys in commemoration. Inspired and partly designed by Kobe, the snake-skin jerseys embody the Black Mamba alter-ego that he famously put on every time he stepped foot on the court. Additionally, the franchise added a #2 heart-shaped patch onto the jerseys in honor of Gianna.
Kobe had a contagious influence that impacted many of us in a way that no other athlete has before. The legacy he built is larger than the beautiful murals fans have painted across the globe, more significant than the 81 points he scored in a single game, and greater than the 5 NBA Championships he earned throughout his career. It will never be forgotten and one that will continue to inspire millions to embrace the Mamba Mentality that embodied who he was as an athlete, a father, and a mentor. As his great friend and former Olympic teammate, LeBron James, expressed from his heart, "So in the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on, brother."