Thinking back to the summer of 1996. Cassette tapes of 2pac Shakur’s “All Eyes on Me” and OutKast’s “Elevators” were inserted into my older brothers boombox’s, with the bass turned up. I was 13 years old at the time. As the music played in the background, I was intensely playing the newly released Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, thinking how amazing the graphics were! I was still playing Madden 95 for my Sega Genesis as well as a host of other 16 bit retro games, including Mortal Kombat III and Sonic The Hedgehog 3. That summer was an amazing one full of pure nostalgia. I remember the NBA finals that year when my favorite player, Michael Jordan, led my favorite team, the Chicago Bulls, to an NBA title. It was my final summer living on the north side of town with all of my friends from Mineral Springs Middle School, and may have been my favorite summer to date.
Then the fall came that year, a time of great transition. After the intense snowstorm that swept across the Carolina’s in 1995, my dad decided in the middle of my 8th grade year that it would be a good idea to move because our house on Mineral Ave. was out in the middle of nowhere. So we did and I ended up switching schools mid year. I remember first attending my new school, being such an introvert. I always loved video games, and I found myself leaning on them much more since I didn’t have many friends. That Christmas was a rough one, but I ended up getting one of my favorite basketball games to date. That game was NBA live 97 for the Sega Genesis, featuring rookie sensation #8, Kobe Bryant.
At the time I was still a Chicago Bulls fan, but I was impressed how Kobe was playing as NBA player straight from high school. I never was a Los Angeles Lakers fan, but I always saw highlights of Kobe growing up on ESPN. As the late 1990’s and early 2000’s passed, I was in college watching Kobe rise to greatness. Throughout the early 2000’s, I remember being a student at WSSU and watching the dominance of the dynamic duo in Kobe and Shaq, as they won multiple NBA titles. I remember shortly thereafter when Kobe changed his number from 8 to 24. It was as if Michael Jordan had passed the torch. Still, I had a hard time accepting that reality.
As the decade came to a close in 2010, I saw Kobe Bryant extend his dominance after the Michael Jordan era as he won championships in 2009 and 2010, in the middle of a new era where Lebron James rising to dominance. Even as Lebron James began to take the torch, Kobe continued to be in discussion for the greatest player of all time. As the years went on, I paid attention to NBA basketball less and less, but I always respected athletes that worked hard and did not quit.
When Kobe Bryant retired, I was honestly shocked. It took me a couple of years to believe it because he was still such a great player. I believe his last game he scored 60 points! Then I realized that maybe he needed to invest more time in his family after overcoming his personal failures. Kobe was human. He made mistakes in his life. He was a flawed person that seemed to have grown up from certain behaviors off the court. I may not have agreed with everything he did, but I always respected him for striving to correct his wrongs, especially concerning his wife. Fast forward to the end of the 2010’s, and there was not much coverage in the media concerning Kobe Bryant. Then it happened…
At 3:30 pm on January 26th, 2020 I was sitting in my living room enjoying a Sunday afternoon on the couch. It was like most Sundays, with church in the morning and lunch after service, then football. As I watched the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl on TV, my 16 year old daughter came in the living room. She said “Hey mom and dad, did you hear that Kobe Bryant just died?” My heart dropped! All I could respond was “What!!!? No way! No way!” As I frantically searched on my phone for my news app, I remember when I first saw the AP news report. I got emotional like many of us did on that day. I felt like I lost a brother. After all I am 36 years old, and he was only 41.
There is an old saying that only the good die young. If this is true, the world truly lost one of the most influential young ex-athletes of all time. To hear the news that Kobe, his daughter, and a host of other individuals passed away in a helicopter crash is simply a tragedy beyond measure. As a man with 2 daughters myself, my heart goes out to Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the rest of the Bryant family. I believe that this is a lesson that all of us can learn from. We have to learn to cherish every moment on this earth that God gives us. Cherish each relationship, cherish the memories. Kobe’s nickname was the Black Mamba, which I researched and found out that he achieved that nickname from watching the movie “Kill Bill” during the lowest point of his life. When you look at how much good he did later on in life outside the basketball arena, it is truly a story of inspiration. I hope and pray that as we navigate through the pain and reality of him being gone, we remember that much more than just his basketball legacy lives on. Mamba out….. 😦