MONDAY DAWN we were awakened by our Mr. Scoop Man (Bong Dejaresco) out there in New York- who spends 25 hours a day looking for news to tell.
News had it that legendary basketball great Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. It was a rude awakening after a relaxed weekend for many fans especially in a basketball-crazy nation like the Philippines.
His death had the same moral equivalent of a Kennedy, a British royalty like Princess Diana or a musical genius like John Lennon dying. We did not realize Kobe Bryant had reached this stature until the Biggies in sports (all kinds), politics and showbiz poured words and tears into a pool of global grief.
Of course, he was a basketball great- to share the pantheon later on with other legends like Kareem, Jordan, Lebron James. Of course, he is the only athlete to become an Oscar winner.
But that is not all that shocked and awed people about Kobe’s death and life, respectively. It was the way he inspired people with his “Black Mamba” mentality.
To sum, it means to be able “to constantly try to be the best version of yourself”. Not the best over others- but the best you can possibly be. It is “to be better today than you were yesterday” -no matter what status in life or work you are in.
The phrase ” you miss every shot that you do not take” may be a classic but Kobe’s:” Competition breeds excellence” is as good as that. Every day to him was in search of the Holy Grail- and he was relentlessly on his way to win at all costs.
To be all that ( 5 NBA champion rings, 2 Olympic Golds and 18 All-Star merits) and maintain humility in accommodating fans worldwide and displaying an infectious sense of humor, as well, made Bryant different.
He visited Manila often, calling it his second home and whose fans’ passionate love for basketball was to him “unbelievable”.
Kobe married the lovely model Vanessa in 2001 -and though they had a brief interlude due to a minor scandal- he loved her to death and bore her four daughters. He was a devout Catholic, according to a bishop in Los Angeles and hours before the crash heard a Catholic Mass. He is such a relatable man.
He inspired and taught her 13-year old Gianna basketball and was destined to be a great female cager of her generation-only she was with him in the helicopter crash where all the passengers perished. Kobe’s favorite mentee- the hot-shooting Kyrie Irving refused to play versus the New York Knicks – on the day he learned about the death of his mentor.
Cage greats Jordan, James, O’Neal and Magic Johnson choked with words in wondrous remembrance of and with an unremitting sense of loss of him. Justin Bieber acknowledged the Black Mamba as his true inspiration. Two modern-day US presidents Barack and Donald bowed in praise of him.
He started a Kobe and Vanessa Family Foundation to help the poor but mainly to provide shelter for the homeless youth. He spoke fluently three languages: English, Italian and Spanish and searched for occasions to purposely inspire people to shoot for the stars and stay there.
Kobe was an inspired and inspiring man. We would not wonder if his basketball jersey number “8-24” will linger in the consciousness of many Americans deeply to erase the ugly memories of “9-11”.
The recent Grammy Awards was a virtual “Kobe Show” -with all the platitudes heaped on the departed legend by all the stars in their traditional homesite Staples Center in LA- which hostess Alicia Keys described as the “House that Kobe Built”.
For a week many buildings in LA will be adorned at night in purple and gold- Kobe’s Laker uniform colors and even upstate New York and the Empire State Building wore the same colored façade to honor the honorable KB.
We may not all have the privilege to be inspired by the magic of Kobe’s words and deeds 10 feet away.
But as a basketball aficionado, all we remember of Kobe is his patented turn-around, fadeaway jump shot with one extended leg and the sound of the “swish” of the net courtesy of colored television. The world, of course, knows much better than that.
Farewell, Black Mamba. Legends never die- they just fade away.
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