Turkey bacon and eggs. A brief, jovial argument with my girlfriend in the community kitchen of my college dorm building about who was on dish duty. It seemed like a typical Sunday morning. I called my dad, we spoke about Lebron passing Kobe (our GOAT) on the all-time scoring list the night before and why he still wasn’t better than the Mamba.
Our brief conversation ending with an “I love you” as it always has since I can remember. Those words now holding more meaning than ever because no sooner than us hanging up the phone I saw the first headline, then another, then another. And before long–after calling everyone I knew to confirm what I already knew was true, I had found out that my hero, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others had died in a helicopter crash which is still hard to come to grips with.
The same man who to me, gave meaning to time, defined what hard work and perseverance were, and gave me a blueprint to follow even if I’d never in my wildest dream accomplish half of what he has. There are certain people you look up to, admire and hope to one day have the same impact they have on others and the world around them.
Then there are those who compel you so much that you have no choice to be exactly who and what they are. It’s that same inspiration that’ll make you ask your mom to create a makeshift glitter glove so you can moonwalk on carpeted floors, singing Billie Jean off-key at the top of your lungs. Or cutting up old church socks and pulling them above your wrist, right below your elbow, throwing on your J’s your mom told you not to hoop in, scribing “23” on the back of your Hanes white tee, and “dunking” on Little Tike hoops with your tongue flailing in every direction. Kobe was just that to me, but I took it one step further. While I wanted to walk and play like Mike, I wanted to live and be like Kobe. That’s an icon.
Some people are notable for what they do, their charitable donations, their performance, or their impact, but very few are immortalized for who they are. Canonizing Kobe as an icon or legend seems like an understatement—almost redundant even, for his name is already synonymous with any and all of those terms.
I mimicked every movement, the cadence of his speech, the detail, the facial expressions, and hand gestures. I was plagued—just like he was with the obsession bug. I hoped to one day be a father just like him because I knew if I couldn’t be like Kobe the player, I knew I could be like Kobe the man, and in many regards that meant just as much—if not more than his influence on the court.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I knew my basketball career would be short-lived post-high school and I’m kind of surprised it lasted as long as it did. I wasn’t the tallest, wasn’t the fastest, didn’t shoot the best or have a crazy handle, (don’t get it twisted though, I will still get busy in a men’s league) but one thing I knew I did have was an unmatched work ethic, an unhealthy fear of failure and a burning passion that wouldn’t dare allow me to quit. All qualities that I soaked up vicariously from studying Kob’.
It was these exact qualities that allowed for a seamless transition from basketball legend to an Oscar, from arguably the most clutch performer in league history to a venture fund guru and philanthropic mastermind—it felt almost blasphemous to think, but it seemed as if his post-career was starting to overshadow his playing days. And I can imagine he didn’t want it any other way.
Once again inspired by his greatness, I did my best to transfer these qualities into my new field—a wide-eyed, green eared journalist fresh out of college, hoisted into a #1 market News station that I grew up watching. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity, but it was and still is completely new. Nothing ever really prepares you for the moment shit gets real, when the lights are turned on (literally and figuratively) and it feels as if all eyes are on you. You either embrace it or falter to the pressure, another lesson learned from two-four. So as I prepared for my first live-air segment I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the court again and instead of a last-second shot, I was responsible for commanding the audience’s attention for an entire minute and a half which in real-time feels like an eternity. I stood up tall, mic in my hand and my script in the other. I got through the script effortlessly, or so I thought. As soon as it was time to close, my face key-lit up bright on camera, I fumble over my second to last closing line so bad that it was almost incomprehensible.
I was devastated, embarrassed, ashamed, and for a moment, doubted if I could actually do this. But there was something inside of me that made me reflect that night and search up Kobe’s highlights the same way I did as a hopeful high schooler. Only this time, I wasn’t looking to study the balance on his fadeaway or the way he picked and chose spots on his pull-up. I was intentionally searching for the moment which he says, helped “shape him.” May 12th, 1997.
With four opportunities to score the go-ahead bucket to send the Lakers to the Western Conference finals, Kobe, a then 18-year-old rookie not only missed but airballed every, single shot in crunch time. One of the lowest points of his career, but also one the most monumental because it served as the springboard that would launch his career to astronomical heights. I watched this one minute clip about 50 times that night. Watching as he’d mouth words to himself out of embarrassment, the way he walked back on defense after yet another miss—but one thing I noticed was he never—not once—put his head down. It takes a special kind of person to not let failure define them, but it takes an exceptional person to continue to fail over and over again and not give up in pursuit of their goals.
So as I wake up on January 26th—one year later—preparing myself to be barraged with a slew of Kobe highlights and memorial posts, I will walk into work just as he did as a rookie on the biggest stage, lace up my kicks, and demand greatness out of myself at every turn. No matter how many times I airball, jumble a word or mispronounce a name; the Mamba mentality remains with me.