by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
The sea of purple and gold cheered you on as you approached the foul line for the final free throw attempts of your career. The Los Angeles Lakers were down 10 late in the fourth quarter, but even as the curtains to your career began to close, you took over the game, and no opposing player could figure out how to stop you.
It was your will and determination that made you the “Black Mamba,” and even at the very end, you left every last ounce of yourself on the court.
That same night, the Golden State Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season, but fans across the country tuned in to watch a Lakers team that couldn’t surpass 20 victories. The sports world stopped to say goodbye to a basketball legend as cameras captured fans and celebrities alike captivated by each of the 22 shots you sunk.
As the final seconds of your career dwindled down, you checked out of the game to a standing ovation. The lights of the Staples Center focused on you as you tried to find the words to describe the emotions that overcame you.
“I can’t believe how fast 20 years went by.”
You came into the NBA straight from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia with the goal of one day being better than Michael Jordan. Though tumultuous at times, you spent your entire career with the one organization you grew up passionately rooting for, and the world saw you grow both on and off the court.
You wrote the final chapter on a storybook career, and decided you wanted more from life. Less than two years after your final game, you won an Oscar for your animated short film “Dear Basketball,” which you wrote to announce your retirement.
You hoped to inspire the next generation and decided it was time to give back to the game that gave you your platform, creating the Mamba Academy.
Your 13-year-old daughter Gianna seemingly continued your basketball legacy with a lethal jump shot and killer instinct of her own, earning herself the nickname “Mambacita.”
Although your NBA career ended, it felt like your life had barely started— and that’s what made this so heartbreaking.
TMZ first broke the news, though very few genuinely believed the headline was real. One by one, news organizations such as ABC News, ESPN and CNN confirmed your death, and it only got worse with each update that was provided.
It was later revealed that Gianna was also aboard that helicopter alongside seven others, and not only fans, but parents who had never even heard of you were saddened knowing your final moments were spent having to live out a parent’s worst fear.
Countless tributes poured onto social media in the weeks that followed your death. Murals of you and Gianna were unveiled in Los Angeles, Austin and the Philippines, and countless “Kobe stories” from former and current players began to surface about how your “Mamba Mentality” inspired them to become the best version of themselves. The world stopped to say goodbye to an NBA legend who became the universal epitome of success through hard work and determination.
Your intelligence became more apparent with each passing interview, and in the years following your retirement, you proved why you were just as much an artist off the court as you were on it — and even in death, you painted scenes that continue to teach us lessons.
Tears began to form in your eyes as you continued to address the 18,997 fans in attendance. As your voice began to crack, and the weight of the moment became too much, you concluded with those famous two words: “Mamba out.” But, through countless tears, tributes and reflection, the only words we can manage to muster are thank you.
Thank you for allowing athletes, analysts and fans to unite through you. Rarely can the average person relate to an NBA superstar, but watching LeBron James among others struggle to keep their emotions in check throughout the week showed us that there is no price tag for grief.
LeBron sharing a moment with his son the same way you shared moments with Gianna shows us that there are more to athletes than their profession.
The same can be said for sports analysts who either grew up watching or spent their entire careers analyzing you. ESPN and Fox Sports One didn’t look like multi-billion dollar companies, but like families who lost one of their own. On-air personalities like Stephan A. Smith, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe and Colin Cowherd were at times on the verge of tears as they discussed sports as a perspective of life instead of as life itself and reflected on the impact you had in both.
On camera, everyone looks invincible, but through death you showed us that they’re just as vulnerable as we are.