“I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan. I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”
The first time I took to a basketball court to play the sport, I had the purple and gold attire of the Los Angeles Lakers with “Bryant, 24” written on the back. It was the first basketball jersey I bought and one I still have today. The weird thing is neither am I a Lakers fan nor is Kobe my all-time favourite basketball player. But such was his impact on and off the game in my life that his was the first jersey I went for in the store.
Kobe Bryant was one of those players, like Roger Federer or Michael Schumacher, who transcended the sport – someone whose name you knew even if you didn’t follow basketball. And with good reason, too. Born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, he grew up in Italy before moving back to the US for high school at Lower Merion in Philly. He came into the NBA after skipping college in 1996 and immediately set the league on fire. What followed in twenty seasons with one organisation were five championships, a league MVP, two Finals MVPs, eighteen NBA All-Star selections, two Olympic golds for Team USA and many more.
But its not the honours that he garnered – it’s the way he garnered them that generated comparisons to the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan. His steely-eyed determination to take his team over the line, game after game, year after year led to some of the most memorable performances in the sport; the 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, single-handedly outscoring the entire Dallas Mavericks team in three quarters, and even his swansong 60-point game against the Utah Jazz.
He never tolerated losing, he never tolerated being lazy and in his own words, he did everything he could to win. Everybody has a Kobe story – whether it’s as a fan or as a player. But the one common underlying theme of it all is this – that he did whatever it took to be great. And that is a lesson that went beyond the court.
“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.”
In a life where even a passion outside of the court resulted in an Academy Award, its hard to say he didn’t live up to these words.
Thank you, Kobe, for showing the world that the number 24 was not just a number worn by a great basketball player.
That 24 is not just the number of seconds on the shot clock in every game.
But that 24 is the number of hours of work that you have to put in everyday to be among the greatest that ever lived.
You didn’t want to be the next Michael Jordan. You weren’t.
Like you wanted, you only were Kobe Bryant.
May you and your daughter rest in peace.
Last modified: 28th January 2020