Nipsey's death was painful because he was finally becoming the superstar he was meant to be. The release of his debut album Victory Lap prepared us for what looked like a promising career on a mainstream level for the California emcee. Hussle's murder was a stern reminder to live with purpose and intent.
The helicopter crash that killed Kobe, his daughter Gianna and seven others affected me in a much different way. Not only were the circumstances horrific, but it was so unexpected that it didn't seem real.
Kobe's hall of fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers convinced me that he was immortal. I've watched him battle his way back from 20 point deficits, score 81 points in one game, and prove to the world that we could win a championship without Shaquille O'Neal. I thought his invincibility extended beyond the hardwood court at The Staples Center.
Bryant's contributions to basketball are what made him a star. However, his work ethic and competitive spirit made him an inspiration outside of the sport's world. The Mamba Mentality was a state of mind associated with Kobe's intense desire to win. His need to excel at the highest level resonated with me as a creative.
Kobe's passion for victory was a reflection of his love for the game. He was infamous for his dictator-like approach when running practices. Even so, Kobe wasn't asking anything from his team that he wasn't willing to do himself. It was his responsibility as the best player and leader to extract the best from each of them.
Young Kobe posting up on Michael Jordan
Bryant bridged the gap between two pivotal periods in NBA History. He was present when Michael Jordan was the ruling monarch and when LeBron James became the heir apparent. He was a dominant force when he faced off against Allen Iverson and Vince Carter as a young player and was able to keep up with Kevin Durant and James Harden as a grizzled veteran.
Michael Jordan is undeniably the face of the NBA. However, Kobe Bryant was the league's heart and soul. Players from yesteryear celebrate his grit while superstars currently in their prime looked to him as a mentor and guiding presence.
On the anniversary of his death, many fans and players still cannot believe that Kobe Bryant is gone. I'll see a clip of him in a documentary or a cameo he made on a 90s TV show, and that daunting feeling of hearing he was dead comes rushing back.
Bryant was the embodiment of a champion, not just on the court but in life. His love for his craft made him a favorite amongst the basketball faithful and his contemporaries. You enjoyed seeing him win, even if it was at the expense of your favorite team. He worked for every win and didn't make excuses when he suffered a loss.
Kobe & Vanessa Bryant with their children
Much like Nipsey Hussle, Kobe still had much to offer when he died. His wealth of knowledge from being battle-tested was a priceless commodity that would've benefited any role in the league, from D league player to commentator.
Unfortunately, no one has been impacted more by Kobe's death than his wife Vanessa and his other daughters, Natalia, Bianca, and Capri. We lost a man with whom we developed an attachment through his athletic accolades. His children lost a father and a sister, and Vanessa lost a husband and a daughter.
At 18 years old, Kobe Bryant took the world of professional basketball by storm. At 41, he was taken from us and left a mark that transcends sports entirely. As the NBA evolves and ushers in a new wave of superstars, we will continue to see Kobe's influence. Sadly, it will also amplify the loudness of his absence.
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