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Roundtable: What Did Kobe Mean to You?

The OTG team came together to celebrate the life and career of Kobe Bryant with a 3-part roundtable series.

What did Kobe mean to you?

Jeremy Freed/@JeremyFreed3: For Cavs fans like me, Kobe was a vague darkness: theoretically terrifying, but never having a direct impact on our lives. A LeBron Cavs team -- or any LeBron team for that matter -- never faced Kobe in the playoffs, and the one year that they looked to be on a true collision-course (2009) the Cavs fell to the Magic, forced to watch Kobe vs. Dwight from their couches.

Kobe was, though, still the measuring-stick of my formative years as a basketball fan. After Jordan retired in 1998, a few players tried to take up his mantle. Kobe was the only one who really found any success.

As players like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and others, Kobe still loomed large. When they played together in the 2008 Olympics, Kobe’s epic work ethic made it clear to his peers that greatness doesn’t come easily. He was both connective tissue and integral organ, blessed similarly with the raw ability to succeed and the burning desire to be great.

Today’s NBA has ‘Kobe’ written all over it.

Now the league is filled with thoughtful stars who shine off the court without losing their desire to be great on it. Kobe was the modern prototype after an era of late-90s stars refused to shine, and the modern NBA that is so beloved is built on his example.

Jonathan Ebrahimi/@awrashoo: Basketball has been such a huge part of my life since I was around eleven years old, and Kobe Bryant WAS basketball during the time that I fell in love with the game.

My relationship with basketball is a love story, a story I can’t tell without mentioning the Lakers three-peat in the early 2000s. Without the 81-point game, without the Olympic Redeem Team. The story doesn’t exist without Kobe’s epic battles with Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

I spent so much of my time debating where Kobe ultimately placed in the all-time ranks of the game, but now, none of that seems to matter at all. He was so much bigger than basketball.

Simply put – basketball, the game that I love, that we all love, just isn’t the same without Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant.

Musaab Nadeem/@mnadeem824: Kobe perfectly captured what it meant to imbue your life with passion. His stories NBA career gave way to a graceful exit and retirement still awash with passion and competitive enthusiasm. Many didn’t think he’d be able to make the transition. After all, how could the guy who made it a point to demoralize his opponents on the court and prove that he couldn’t be outworked on the practice floor find something else that could satisfy his unmatched edge?

What Kobe ultimately proved, with his desire to reach the pinnacle in media and storytelling, was that it wasn’t necessarily basketball that fueled his passion. Kobe was passion.

When Kobe won for Best Animated Feature in 2018, he said that winning the Oscar felt better than winning a championship. It felt there was no way that Kobe Bryant, the most ferocious competitor to ever grace a basketball court, could enjoy winning a trophy in the arts more than another ring.

But this thinking was so clearly wrong. He loved that trophy because it was the next mountaintop to reach. When he was with basketball, he was all basketball. Every ounce of passion went into it. But then he was on to the next battle: that of storytelling; and every ounce went into that.

Endless passion. That’s what I’ll remember when I think about Kobe.

Cam Wright/@CameronLeft_: Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about Kobe and his impact on my life within basketball. I didn’t grow up in California, I never saw Kobe in person, and I never tuned in night in and night out to watch him dominate. However, Kobe represented something much more than the day to day greatness he demonstrated, but a feeling. One that we have come to know as “Mamba Mentality”.

To try and dissect the Mamba Mentality is like trying to dissect gravity. It’s something that we all come face to face with in our lives and it defines who we are and what our legacy is. It’s when we come face-to-face with problems or obstacles that seem too big for us, but climbing over them and leaving them in the dust.

Growing up in the Midwest, basketball was simple and stripped down. There were dirt courts, ripped nets, and formulaic jumpshots. It is on these courts where Kobe planted the seeds of inspiration in millions of young kids like myself who wanted to be great but knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Losing Kobe is like losing the rain. It’s a common denominator that we never thought would be gone. There seemed to be no basketball without Kobe, and yet here we are looking around for answers. It is unsure time in the game that we all love, but like Kobe said, “Everything negative - pressure, challenges - is all an opportunity for us to rise.”

Kobe is much more than a basketball legend, he’s a blueprint for facing challenges and overcoming obstacles that seem bigger than we are.

Kyle Russell/@kbrheatnation: I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but Kobe to me meant pushing yourself to your absolute limit, to squeeze as much potential out of yourself as possible. To never be satisfied for where you are and instead always hunger to be better.

That’s all easier said than done, but for Kobe he proved it’s possible to live up to that ideal. That work ethic extended into his leadership style as well, where he continually pushed those around him to be the best they could. He put in the work, why couldn’t they? Leading by example like that is something I’ve always aspired for. Kobe never leaned on his talent, only his hard work and drive to be better. For me, that’s what Kobe and the mamba mentality have always meant.

PART 1: What was your favorite Kobe performance?

PART 2: What was your favorite off-court Kobe moment?

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