February 5, 2020

The Black Mamba

Kobe Bryant was more than just one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was an inspiration. He was my inspiration. His unwavering dedication towards everything in his life encouraged me so much. That was his legacy, and he called it the Black Mamba.

As a young boy, I idolised and viewed certain people as super-human, as most young people do. I saw these people as untouchable, unobtainable and faultless. When I grew up, I began to understand that they too, we're only human. Famous people are living their lives in the spotlight, but they are people nonetheless. I still appreciated who they were and what they did, but I no longer idolised them. However, Kobe Bryant was the one exception.

I remember heading off to a Poker game when I heard the devastating news. A helicopter crash took the lives of 9 people, including Kobe and his daughter Gianna. I was heartbroken. My only idol, gone. At that moment, there were no words. I wanted to honour him somehow, though, so I wore his basketball jersey and the shoes he trained in. Yes, the actual shoes he wore. I still can't believe I scored them! Picture this though, his size 16 shoes on my size 7 feet, and his huge Jersey covering me like a dress. It was a bittersweet moment.

Image description: Jono pictured in Kobe Bryant's old jersey and sneakers on the day of his death..

In light of Kobe's passing, I was reflecting on the sports industry. I think sports has lost its real essence. The athleticism, sportsmanship and competition fall secondary to money and fame. Many athletes fall victim to the capitalist nature of the industry and forget where they started. When Kobe was on the court, it felt different. The money wasn't the drive (despite there being lots of it). It was about being the best player he could be. It was the championship or nothing. He finessed his craft with a passion and dedication rarely seen but a privilege to watch.

"I would love for people to look at my career and say that I maximised everything that I possibly could, every ounce of talent that I had, I got the out of it all. If people can say that about me then I'd be really happy." Kobe Bryant on how he would like to be remembered once his basketball career ends. Image description: Kobe Bryant smiling with his back to the camera. He is standing on a basketball court in his Lakers jersey.

Basketball may have been his first love, but his family was his true love. The passion he had for the game could only be matched by the love he had for his family. He'd travel by helicopter frequently so that he would have more time with his wife and daughters. Since retiring from the game in 2016, he dedicated his efforts to coaching Gianna's basketball team. He was also a huge advocate of women's sports.
Gianna Bryant, affectionately known as Gigi, was just 13 years old at the time of her passing. Gigi and Kobe had a deep bond and a mutual love of basketball. She was following in her father's footsteps and had a strong desire for the game. It was predicted that she might well have become one of the greatest female basketball players of her time. Beyond that, Gigi has been described as kind, caring, selfless and intelligent, "a beautiful kid who loved her family and friends". It's devastating that her life was cut short.

Kobe was an undeniably talented basketball player, but his post-basketball career was shaping up to be something incredible. He had the Black Mamba inside him, and the talent manifested in his brief yet powerful writing and production endeavours. Anything Kobe decided to do, he did with conviction, heart and soul.

Because of that passion, he won an Academy Award in 2018 as the Executive Producer for the best animated short film, 'Dear Basketball.' The film was based on a poem he wrote shortly before retiring from the game. The poem reads:

Dear Basketball,

From the moment

I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:

I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.

As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.

And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always, Kobe

By Kobe Bryant. Nov 30, 2015.

From the website: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/dear-basketball

Today, I share the Black Mamba spirit with him. To be outstanding at anything, you need to immerse yourself in that thing completely. Make it your obsession. In 2013, I won a Poker tournament in Queenstown, New Zealand. People say I got lucky, but I disagree. Sure, chance dictates the hand you are dealt, but knowledge and strategy win the game. In my opinion, luck has nothing to do with it. For me, winning was a product of diligent study, obsessive research and practice, lots of practice. For two years, I lived and breathed poker.

These days, I have a new passion. The last few years have been dedicated to creating a life I've always wanted, and I want to share my success stories with others. I want to advocate for autonomy and liberation within the disability community. I want to guide other people with disability in realising their goals and strategising ways of attaining them. Sometimes, it's hard to imagine what this looks like, but I know it is possible with the right support network.

It's been one week, and I'm still grieving. My thoughts go out to Kobe and Gigi's family and all those around the world who struggle with this immense loss.

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