Ode to Mamba

Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

By Mike Williams

Since I was a child in the 1990s, there have been a few athletes who were much more than athletes to me. They were the ones whom even non sports fans could name off the top of their head. Something along the lines of “Yea, that’s the Michael Phelps swimmer guy.” Tiger Woods and Lebron James also come to mind. But my first encounter with such an athlete was Kobe Bryant. As a Knicks fan, I knew what it was like to have that deflating gut-punch feeling when your player gave him an inch too much space on the perimeter. 

I remember every kid in school, myself included, throwing a crumpled up piece of loose leaf in the trash and screaming “KOBE!” He did more than touch everyone’s lives; he changed how we disposed of our trash. Kobe was the difference maker in every game. He struck fear into the hearts of his opponents and stood as an example to everyone on what it means to be a champion on and off the court. He also was the perfect example of an athlete who would work incessantly to become the very best he could possibly be.

My immediate reaction to yesterday’s story was typical of my past reactions to clickbait sites that claim that some celebrity has succumbed to his or her injuries from some freak accident. First it was five people onboard a helicopter, then it was nine. And now his daughter Gigi was with him? Yea, right. As I scrolled Twitter and saw the blue check mark accounts confirming the news, it didn’t feel real. As I am writing this, I still don’t believe it. How can someone so strong and influential die in a helicopter? His own helicopter. A father, a husband, and an all time great— gone in the blink of an eye. Tiger Woods appeared to feel strange talking about Kobe in the past tense in an on camera interview just five minutes after finding out by the 18th green of Torrey Pines. No tears, just a blank gaze, trying to grasp the fact that he lost a friend.

It kept getting worse. 

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva seemed to criticize TMZ for first reporting the news. His comments hinted that the Bryant family might have found out from the initial TMZ report. Not to mention the several “reputable” news outlets with variations on the story that didn’t seem to match up. To think that Vanessa Bryant had to hear about the death of her husband and daughter from Twitter instead of being the first one to know is something that the mind can’t begin to understand.

So how do we, as sports fans, move on? We light a candle for Kobe, Gigi, and the seven others on board at the time of the accident. We stop caring about how many likes we have on Instagram and start to check in with that loved one who lives far away. We become more present and more appreciative of those little gems that every day offers us. 

Step it up, and be kind to one another. Attack each day as if it were your last and be a champion in everything you do. It’s what Kobe did with each of the precious days he was given.

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