Kobe Bryant: A Hall of Fame Legacy Beyond the Hardwood
Updated: Sep 6
USA TODAY Sports
Beyoncé. Prince. Oprah. Kobe. There are different tiers of fame and popularity, and atop the pyramid sit the icons who can be summed up with just a name.
When you think of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, what comes to mind? Endless game winners? Five NBA championships? The famous Mamba Mentality? How about a teacher or an inspiration?
Every NBA fan remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on the afternoon of January 26, when the tragic news broke that Kobe Bryant and his 13-year old daughter Gianna had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Nine people in total lost their lives in the accident.
Fans displayed their admiration of Kobe by creating their own memorial outside of the Staples Center, where Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career. They left jerseys, basketballs, flowers, candles, and handwritten signs in remembrance of one of the greatest to ever play.
On February 24th, a crowd of over twenty thousand people gathered in the Staples Center for the public memorial service for Kobe and Gianna. They looked upon the same court that Bryant had left Lakers fans with endless joy and memories. This time around, the tone was much more somber.
When anybody passes away at such a young age, the news is always heartbreaking, but Kobe’s unexpected and tragic death still causes pain in the basketball community. He had just begun a new chapter of life, as an artist, a mentor, a coach, and a father.
Bryant entered the NBA straight out of Lower Merion High School at just 17-years old and retired from the league in 2016, twenty years later. He dedicated a large majority of his life to dominating the NBA and perfecting his craft.
The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most storied franchise in NBA history. Many of the greatest players of all time have donned the purple and gold. This legendary list includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, and Wilt Chamberlain along with many others. Despite the accolades of all these generational talents, when millions of Lakers fans think of their team, they think of Kobe.
Bryant’s career accomplishments are endless but are highlighted by his five NBA championships, 18 NBA All-Star appearances, 11-time All-NBA First Team awards, and nine Time All-Defensive First Team awards to name a few. On December 17, 2017, Bryant made history as the only player ever to have two jersey numbers retired by the same team when the Lakers hung both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the rafters.
When he retired from the NBA, we thought we had seen the last of his accomplishments but leave it to the Black Mamba to prove us all wrong one final time. He won an Academy Award for his animated short film, Dear Basketball, an emotional video that Bryant executive produced and released following his retirement from the NBA. An NBA player winning an Oscar is nothing short of spectacular.
Bryant was an absolute assassin on the court. He defined a golden standard of greatness and expected the same from his teammates. Mamba mentality, two words that will forever be synonymous with Bryant’s name.
Kobe penned a book about his mantra in 2018. He explained what it all meant to him. “Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” Bryant said. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit. It started just as a hashtag that came to me one day, and it’s grown into something athletes and even non-athletes embrace as a mindset.”
Kobe’s monster work ethic inspired millions, far from the context of a basketball court. Consider Michael Bonner, a second grade teacher who had his class write their fears and doubts on paper and then crumple them up and shoot them into the trashcan while yelling “Kobe.”
That is the everlasting legacy that Bryant left behind. As a sports superstar, Bryant understood the platform he was given and how imperative it was to use his fame to speak his thoughts and ideas. This video is just one example, but it teaches us that Bryant’s legacy goes way beyond his playing career.
He preached being consistent, being fearless, and investing in ourselves and what we’re capable of achieving. He motivated a younger generation of aspiring leaders to dream large and stop at nothing to make those dreams a reality.
Sadly, we will never get to hear Bryant’s hall of fame speech which we know would’ve been insightful, humorous, and mostly inspiring. We will never get to hear his thoughts on the young talent that is blossoming in the NBA. We will never get to watch him coach his daughter Gianna on her quest to reach the WNBA.
However, we will remember Kobe as a teacher more than anything through his ability to motivate others to see the greatness they possess.
Even after his death, Bryant taught us all one last lesson, the importance of family and the value of life. On that infamous January day, the world gathered and mourned the loss of an icon, a hero, a model for greatness.
Bryant’s legacy isn’t without glaring issues. For some, Bryant’s passing brought up painful memories of ugly chapters in the past. There are those for whom Kobe is no hero at all.
Kobe spent the final years of his life advocating heavily for women’s basketball, specifically taking a hands-on role in his daughters’ budding careers on the court. He is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three daughters.
His death sparked an outpouring of emotion from folks far beyond the basketball community. After his passing, many talented fans and artists paid tribute to the Black Mamba and his daughter Gianna by displaying their artistic knack and talents through murals and paintings.
Here is an incredibly well-done mural in the Tenement in Taguig City, Philippines.
Over the years, Bryant has provided many with endless inspiration. My own favorite Kobe quote comes from one of his final interviews.
“The most important thing in life is how your career moves and touches those around you and how it carries forward to the next generation, that’s what makes true greatness.”
Carrying forward to the next generation is exactly what Bryant did. Many players in today’s game looked up to Bryant. These names include Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and Trae Young.
In 2016, after the Cleveland Cavaliers mounted an improbable 3-1 comeback in the NBA Finals, a young Kyrie Irving was elated. Shortly after heading back to the locker room, Irving Facetimed Bryant, his mentor and close friend.
“Dude, it worked! Your advice worked!” Irving yelled with enthusiasm.
Bryant’s legacy and fame began with a ball in his hands but evolved to be so much more. Bryant was a superstar father, an inspiration to a younger generation, and most importantly, he was arguably the greatest teacher to grace this Earth.
Basketball was Bryant’s passion, his inspiration to strive for greatness, but the main takeaway from his illustrious life was that Bryant wanted to leave behind a legacy much greater than sports. He hoped to inspire others to be determined, hardworking, and mentally strong.
Hearing the phrase “the late Kobe Bryant” will never feel right but knowing how he impacted others through his mentorship and wisdom will keep his memory alive for generations to come. That legacy is greater than any championship, award, or game winner.
On behalf of the world, we thank you Kobe. Mamba out, but never forgotten.