I was born on Nov. 1, 1999, in Los Angeles, one day before Kobe Bryant and the Lakers would begin the run to their first of five championships together. Sports was a huge part of my life from the start, and Bryant’s Lakers were my first taste of what it means to love something so dearly. I still treasure a photo, taken just months after I was born, where I am in my mother’s arms at my first sporting event — a Lakers’ game — with the purple and gold hardwood of the brand-new Staples Center shining below our box.
On Jan. 26, Bryant was one of nine people who passed away in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, college baseball coach John Altobelli, Altobelli’s wife Keri Altobelli, their daughter Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Chester’s daughter Payton Chester and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, also died in the crash.
Even though I had moved from Los Angeles and attend the University of Georgia, a school over 2,000 miles away, a part of me was crushed. Bryant was a man I had never met, yet tears quickly filled my eyes. He was Los Angeles. Bryant may have come from Philadelphia, but he represented everything it means to be an Angeleno. A part of Los Angeles died on Sunday, and even though I have left the city, it has never left me. Together, we lost one of our own.
To some, Bryant was a star athlete, one who won championships and was almost universally loved by basketball fans. He was so much more than just that in my life, however. When I think of the name Kobe Bryant, I think of witnessing that iconic seven-game redemption against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals on the couch with my dad. I think of his poster that adorned my childhood wall and remains in my dorm to this day. I think of the city that represents my home.
The finality still stings so deeply, not because we lost the basketball star, but we lost Kobe Bryant, the person. His career on the court may have finished, but he had an incredible second act in store that was cut tragically short. Bryant had won an Oscar and was championing the growth of women’s basketball alongside his daughter Gianna, who dreamed of playing for the University of Connecticut. The fact that I’ll never see those chapters of their lives come to fruition cuts even deeper.
Bryant was a true icon, a legend, an inspiration to any athlete or fan who witnessed what he achieved. My story is just one of millions around the globe, and Bryant leaves a legacy few will ever match. The teacher is gone, but the lessons he taught us all about drive, commitment and passion — the Mamba Mentality — carry on.
It hurts so much to say goodbye, but what I really want to say is thank you, Kobe. Thank you for being so much more than my favorite player. Thank you for being a symbol and ambassador of Los Angeles, the city I love. Even all the way here in Athens, I will forever cherish those moments we shared from the day my life began.