As I walked off the plane a few weeks ago from a weekend trip in Vienna, Austria and respond to the frantic texts and calls from my mother, I am anticipating her normal frustration in me not calling her while traveling. I call her back, hearing her voice even more panicked than usual, asking multiple times about my location and my safety. After reassuring her, she broke the news that Kobe died on his helicopter and I was speechless. She repeated it 6 times and I just did not believe her the more she said it. As I gained reception and more texts came through from friends and family that this living legacy had actually passed.
This was difficult for anyone, ANYONE who has watched or played basketball. Kobe transformed the game of basketball. I started watching basketball midway through his career and although I never admitted it at the time, he was a huge inspiration to me. Basketball was my everything for most of my life. I loved basketball more than anything and devoted hours of my life to it. After reading a story about Kobe's 4 AM workouts in middle school, he inspired me to push myself. Every weekday of every summer I would wake up at 7 AM and completed a basketball workout and it was all because I was so inspired by this man who devoted his life to his craft. This work ethic and mindset transcended past basketball. I began devoting my entire self to anything I wanted to accomplish, and I still try to do this with anything that is important to me. This isn't a coincidence. It started with basketball and fortunately transferred into other areas of my life, and if it weren't for my exposure to Kobe Bryant's story that showed a small glimpse of his relentless dedication to his passion, I would be a different person today.
Kobe Bryant was such a significant part of my life, from the time I initially picked up a basketball at seven years old, all the way through his final 60 point game in my junior year of high school. Kobe was never my favorite player, and I actually would root against him as I was in love with both Lebron and Steve Nash, who he was constantly matched up against. But it never mattered how hard I rooted against Kobe, because he would always dominate any game that he played, and I would sit in both frustration and awe wondering how one man can do the things that he would do. I would then go outside and try to imitate his famous turnaround over and over again, obsessed with how beautiful and effective it was. I had a strange, yet unmatched infatuation with Kobe as a young basketball player and even though he wasn't my favorite player, I would constantly try to emulate my game after his in any way that I possibly could.
Last March, within the last year of his life, I had the honor of meeting Kobe and his thirteen year old daughter and basketball star Gigi, which I consistently regard as the best day of my life. At our post-practice breakfast with the players and coaches, he sat at the table 15 feet away from me and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We stayed until all the players and coaches left until it was myself and two assistant coaches. We listened to him talk so passionately about his daughter, his new book, and everything that consumed his life after his career ended less than four years ago. Everything I thought about Kobe was confirmed on this frigid Saturday morning in Storrs, CT. His life-long sacrifice to figuring out anything he could possibly know about basketball to his commitment to helping any basketball player he has ever met improve their game was all reflected in the passion seeping through his deep voice, as we all listened in amazement. As he was walking out, one of the assistant coaches asked if we could get a picture with him. He looked over at us, flashed a smile and introduced himself, as our hands shrunk in his. He then teased me about a shot that I missed in practice. One of the coaches told Kobe that I joked earlier that day about how I am an important person at UConn, in which he responded that he was fortunate to be in my presence and glad to know who he is talking to and dapped me up. This is one of the moments in my life that I will never ever forget, and every time I recollect this memory I can’t help but smile from ear to ear.
As Kobe has been such an important person in my life since, inspiring me to achieve greatness in my biggest passion for most of my life, hearing this news in my first couple of weeks abroad was not easy to cope with. I was by myself when I received the news, but I could not process it. I reflected on the hour-long metro ride I had back to my apartment and realized the gravity of the moment. Although I felt so removed from the people I felt I needed to talk to at home after hearing this, it gave me the opportunity to process this the best I could in solidarity. I smiled, cried and wondered how so many others who had been touched by Kobe so much more than myself are dealing with this. I thought about his legacy, and how his impact on his family, friends, the city of Los Angeles, the United States and the world. As I watched people come in and out the metro, I saw people with tears in their eyes looking at their phone, and could only assume that at least a few of these people were reacting to the news that I was. At first, I was regretful that I was not at home to cope with this. However seeing this news touch the people of Barcelona allowed me to see exactly how far his influence across the country reached, something I would not have realized or appreciated back in the states. Throughout the week, I saw detailed Kobe graffiti on multiple walls throughout the city which was such a comforting sight. When I arrived home from the airport, my roommates and I had such a great conversation about his effect on our lives and the world, allowing me to better process the gravity of what I was feeling.
Kobe wasn't just one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. Kobe awed millions with his humility, his creative genius that was only beginning to show, and his dedication to ambassadorship of the game of basketball. For me and so many, he was an inspiration and example of the importance of seeking your passion in life and once you’ve found it, to constantly push yourself to greatness, no matter how great you already are. I miss my family and friends that have texted me in the past 24 hours, but I am even more grateful to experience such a tragedy in a new place, where I will never forget how the solidarity and distance I felt at that moment pushed me to a state of reflection.
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<p>I am a junior from Connecticut studying Finance, Africana Studies, and Economics. At the University of Connecticut, I am a consultant & the Director of Diversity in the UConn Consulting Group, VP of UConn FEC (teaching underprivileged elementary school students about financial literacy), President of the Club Basketball team, a practice player for the Women's Basketball team, a TA for the First Year Experience program, and a tutor for first-generation college students. In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball, working out, traveling to new places, having great conversations, discussing politics, reading, learning about and discussing injustice, and going out with my best friends and new people.</p>