NATIVIDAD: Mamba is eternal
We were sitting court side on Sunday afternoon with my daughters and son watching the Cal women’s basketball team play University of Colorado, when I got a one word text from a good friend.
“Kobe …” the message read.
I didn’t think much of it until I turned to my wife. She had been sifting through news on her phone. “Did Kobe Bryant die?” she asked puzzled.
“No f—— way. That can’t be true,” I responded.
I began to get more messages with links to articles, and an even more surprising phone call from my father, all of which confirmed the truth. That the man they called “Black Mamba” was gone.
For some reason, and I’m not really sure why, I got chills over my whole body and immediately teared up. I put my right hand over my eyes, and then I let the feeling pass.
A few moments later, though, news broke that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, had also died in the helicopter crash, along with seven others. I looked down at my oldest daughter sitting next to me. I had brought her to the game so she could see strong young women in sports.
She was watching attentively as I took her hand and put it against my cheek. I kissed it, and held it for a second, then I let go. I kissed my son on the top of his head as he asked me “What happened?”
“There was an accident, and some people died,” I replied.
“Who died?” he responded.
“A little girl and her father,” I said.
In his death, Kobe Bryant leaves a complex legacy. As a young man he was arrested and accused — but never convicted — of sexual assault. But as an established soon to be Hall of Fame NBA legend, he supported gender equity and women in sports maybe more than any other player of his stature.
As a 17-year-old basketball phenom, he developed a brash standoffish style on court, characterized, by some, as a selfish player that didn’t connect with his teammates or pass the ball enough. But five championships, two Finals MVP’s, 15 All-NBA team and 12 All-Defensive team selections later, we now know that the juice was worth the squeeze.
As a fan of any team that wasn’t the Lakers, you hated Kobe. You thought he was an unoriginal Michael Jordan impersonator, a fake, a mimic. That somehow his excellence threatened Jordan’s greatness.
But there was no denying he was the real deal. Kobe Bryant had the goods — he had the whole bakery.
For basketball fans outside of Los Angeles, we sometimes loved him, we sometimes hated him. We saw his mistakes and flaws, but under the bright lights, on and off court, we got to see him change in a way that allowed us to grow with him. His ability to adapt and inspire as a player, father and human being was not only his redemption, but ours.
Personally, as a young kid rooting for the Sacramento Kings, I hated Kobe. He broke my heart with every impossibly clutch shot, with every buzzer beater, with every epic playoff performance.
But as a man and father he became a source of inspiration.
Just last week I sat in front of my lap top screen watching Kobe’s final three minutes in the NBA for the umpteenth time on YouTube. It was on April 13, 2016 against the Utah Jazz and he dropped 60 points in a come from behind win in the final minutes led by an arsenal of remarkably dramatic clutch plays.
My favorite part of that moment is with 1:47 left on the game clock, he drives down the right side of the lane and plops a floater up over his defender, banking it off the top of the glass. You see him jet back down the court to get back on defense. But during a dead ball, he hunches over with his hands clinching the bottom of his basketball shorts, struggling to stand. His 37-year-old lungs were gasping for air. He looked like he could pass out from a lack of oxygen at any moment.
But you knew that wasn’t going to happen.
You could see it in his eyes. That will, that determination, that unmatched competitive drive. He was not going to let something as silly as breathing stop him from leaving it all out there on the court.
Not on his last game… Not ever.
He was going to give us one last moment of excellence to witness. He was the Mamba, and that’s what he does.
Prior to his death, that moment became a sense of inspiration for me, and I’m sure many others. Proof that, no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to aspire to greatness — to dream big — in everything. These are things I still find myself trying hard to do as a father and human being. Things that came so naturally to Kobe.
I think that the biggest reason why many folks are so shook over his passing is that it is a reminder that even those very rare human beings that seem so invincible, can be gone in the blink of an eye. We’ve all experienced our own loved ones, some long before their time, dying for no good reason at all.
This is just another reminder that life is fleeting, but so is death.
As a father I can’t really fathom having to experience something so tragic as this with any of my children. To feel their fear and pain. Knowing they were going to die, and that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. The amount of grace and poise needed in that moment, to give that child what they needed to feel some kind of solace would be unbearable.
But as we all well know, Kobe never folded under pressure.
So as a father we know he was there for her when she needed him the most, and she got the love and care she needed in that moment.
When someone dies young, I think there is a universal sadness that everyone feels. It’s a feeling of wasted potential. A feeling that the world missed out on something great.
But Kobe gave sports fans so many great memories on the court. He elevated the game of basketball and transcended sports in a way that few have. As a player, he created moments that reflected the potential of what was possible, and as a person he gave us nuggets of wisdom to be cherished for lifetimes to come.
I think people live beyond their mortality through the memories they have created for others. So for basketball fans Kobe Bryant will live on forever.
Mamba is eternal.
Ivan Natividad is a columnist who contributes to The Union regularly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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