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Former NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant’s untimely demise last month shocked the world. For each heart that was broken on Jan. 26 by the news, many more were inspired. And much like another West Coast icon gone too soon, Nipsey Hussle, Kobe’s death brought to light what characteristics makes one legendary.
For an entire generation, he was a lighthouse, a role model, and a real live superhero. His determination, integrity, and athleticism made him a true leader in black history. In his 41 years, he achieved so much personally and professionally. Kobe’s journey represented hope, demonstrated overcoming, and displayed family legacy in a way we don’t often see from someone like him.
Here are seven reasons Kobe Bryant will forever be a legend on and off the basketball court.
1. He showed us how to be a great father
In one of Kobe’s final interviews, he mentioned that people would make comments to him that he needed a son to carry out his legacy, but as a proud #GirlDad, he always encouraged his four girls to dream big. He was grooming one in particular to carry on the family tradition.
In a touching news segment by sports reporter Elle Duncan, she shared a special story about an interaction she had with the late legend while she was pregnant with a daughter of her own. “Girls are amazing,” Kobe told her. “I’d have five more girls if I could.”
This pride for his little girls sparked a full on viral moment of celebrity dads like Bow Wow and Timabland to ordinary fathers alike celebrating the honor to raise girls, too. The trend helped to dispel the myth that all men want sons. Furthermore, in the black community, it was an opportunity to show black men as active fathers, too.
Hopefully, this loud and proud stance men took loving on their daughters will promote a greater sense of gender equality. Kobe’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, also a former NBA player and WNBA coach likely encouraged Kobe to spend the years after retirement mentoring female college basketball players including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, who also perished in the tragic helicopter crash with two of her teammates. Gigi had plans to carry on her father’s legacy as “Mambacita,” and Kobe was doing everything in his power to make sure she and other girls like her were supported and prepared.
2. He showed us how to handle adversity with dignity and class
While he will always be remembered as an elite athlete and devoted family man, Kobe’s legacy will forever be complicated due to an incident that took place in 2003: A felony sexual assault charge.
The situation happened in Colorado, just two years after marrying his wife Vanessa Bryant, when a 19-year-old hotel front desk clerk claimed Kobe raped her on a hotel tour. The case was eventually dropped when the accuser decided not to testify and the civil lawsuit against him was settled out of the court of law, but the jury is still out in the court of public opinion.
Then 24-year-old Kobe, who had a squeaky clean record up to that point, had his reputation and freedom in the balance. Yet when he was asked by a reporter if he was concerned about his image, he found the courage and tact to remain optimistic.
He told the reporter: “I hope, one day, people will look back on my career and see everything that I’ve been through, everything that my fans have been through... and I just stayed steady. I didn’t wig out. I just stayed steady, I stayed professional.”
This case, which impacted Kobe on and off the court, allowed for a certain rebirth. He created the alter ego successor, which friend LeBron James got tattooed on his left leg in memoriam, “The Black Mamba.”
The nickname, inspired by cult classic film Kill Bill, helped Kobe to separate the man from the athlete in order to keep his head in the game on the court. It also helped him block out the internal conflict he was feeling and the nasty things sports fans would chant at him while playing.
3. He taught us “Mamba Mentality”
What started as a hashtag soon became a mantra for Kobe’s fans to live by. He told Amazon Books in an interview, “Mamba mentality is about 4 a.m. workouts, doing more than the next guy, and then trusting in the work you’ve put in when it’s time to perform.”
In the book titled Mamba Mentality: How I Play, Kobe wrote, “I always aimed to kill the opposition” just like the deadly snake he’d named himself after.
“The main thing LeBron [James] and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality,” he continued.
Kobe was so focused on being the greatest that he played through several career-threatening injuries like back spasms, a torn ligament in his shooting hand, a torn achilles tendon, and an ankle sprain in the 2000 NBA Finals.
4. He spoke many languages
Another thing that made Kobe so special to so many was how worldly and cultured he was. While many NBA players have diverse backgrounds, Kobe’s was rather unique for a black kid from Philadelphia.
He spoke fluent Spanish, Italian and Chinese in addition to English with confidence and finesse. The player, who entered the league straight from high school, would often answer international reporters’ questions in their native languages. He even learned French, Serbian and Bosnian just to trash talk his opponents.
At the age of six, Kobe moved to Italy where his father played basketball professionally, and his family lived there for eight years.
In a heartbreaking post from his late wife Vanessa, she shared that she missed her “best friend” telling her “Bonjourno principessa/reina,” which means “Good morning princess/queen” in Italian.
5. He was an NBA All-Star and champion Olympian
Kobe retired in 2016 after a dazzling 20-year career. During that time, he snagged five NBA Championship rings, two NBA Finals MVP titles, was named the 2008 NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, 18-time NBA All-Star, 1997 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion, two-time Best NBA Player ESPY Award winner, and won the USA two Olympic gold medals. Excellence is marked all over Kobe’s legacy.
6. He never let one thing define him
Kobe was the king of reinventing himself and explored every talent he had from acting to rapping.
He had a heart for the people and regularly did community work to help others. He was also a philanthropist who contributed time and resources to after school programs, efforts to help the homeless, volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club of America and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, participated in NBA Cares initiatives, helped raise $80 million for cancer research, and $2.5 million with the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to sponsor international enrichment experiences for minority college students.
He also provided domestic and international youth scholarships for the Kobe Bryant Basketball Academy, delivered aid to victims of natural disasters, rewarded elementary school students for 100 percent completion rate in the Lakers Reading Challenge and assisted President Barack Obama in creating care packages for wounded warriors, among other selfless acts.
At his time of death, Kobe was on his way to coach a youth basketball tournament at his newly rebranded MAMBA Sports Academy. The 100,000 square foot multi-sports facility in Thousand Oaks, California. which opened in 2019 to train young athletes.
Moreover, only two months ago — almost like an angel — Kobe stopped his car, and was captured comforting victims of a motorcycle accident and redirecting traffic until help arrived in Newport Beach, California.
7. His legacy inspired people
While Kobe’s death surely had a global impact illustrated by memorials and tributes all over the world, black men were especially affected.
Men typically do not show emotion, most citing that they do not want to look “weak.” But losing Kobe, someone almost superhuman, finally cracked that facade and we saw the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James cry on national television.
Rapper 50 Cent, who’s known to troll and harass people online, committed to stop the beef and “deal with it another way if there’s a problem.” Similarly, Gilbert “No Chill Gil” Arenas shared the last piece of advice Kobe gave him: Use his talents to coach some kids and stop acting a clown on social media.
Kobe, while human and therefore flawed, was an anomaly of sorts, breaking stereotypes and crossing borders. He showed the world that black men are multifaceted and extraordinary in physical ability and compassion. And while the world loved him, he represented something special to the black culture. He is a legend that will forever challenge us to keep evolving and keep striving for greatness. Mamba Forever.
Watch REVOLT TV’s Kobe Bryant: Legend on and off the court legacy doc above!