The Black Mamba, the Girl Dad and Kobe Bryant’s eternal legacy

After 20 seasons spent playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the ball stopped bouncing for five-time NBA champion, 17 time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA Finals MVP and Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Average professional athletes do not walk away from a career with such impressive feats, nor do they completely change the course of the game in which they play long after they lace up their shoes for the very last time. However, Kobe was unmistakably one of the few that did, as his heart and soul have forever shaped the game that we call basketball.

Over his years spent on the court, Kobe developed a mindset, a powerful ethos which he lived, breathed and shared with others along the way. This competitive spirit became personified in the nickname “Black Mamba,” which Kobe gave himself at the lowest point in his career. 

In 2013, Bryant was charged with sexual assault in the state of Colorado, although the case was later dropped. In his interview with Business Insider, Bryant commented on his mindset coming out of that experience, saying, “I had to separate myself … It felt like there were so many things coming at once. It was just becoming very, very confusing. I had to organize things. So I created The Black Mamba.”

With this persona, Kobe re-identified himself not only as a basketball player, but as a person walking through life as well. He used this same ferocity, intensity and drive that he was able to channel on the court and applied it to all aspects of his character. He coined a term he called the “Mamba Mentality,” which has flourished beyond its mantra-like identity and has permeated the minds of aspiring athletes and common folk alike. 

This mentality follows the notion that hard work is always the best route to success, and it is this competitive spirit that one needs to transform from being just good to being great. Kobe will forever be known as always unleashing a killer instinct against opponents, no matter who was standing in front of him. Whether it was practice, shoot around, games or the NBA Finals, Kobe was able to connect his mind with his body, ultimately creating a reliant, fearless and focused competitor that was ready to win.

It was this force that led him to so much success within the world of basketball, but also inspired so many to persevere, never give up and figuratively shoot their shot at their dreams. While Kobe might have stepped away from the game of basketball in a literal sense in 2016 after announcing his retirement, the basketball hero began approaching the game in a new way, through the spirit of one of his four daughters, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant.

Gianna became known as Mambacita, following in the footsteps of her father and becoming a basketball phenom at the young age of 13. The two were seen sitting in the stands at various NBA events, watching blossoming talent like point guard Trae Young and his Atlanta Hawks, or sitting in to enjoy the special female talent of the Oregon Ducks, as Kobe and Gigi both admired the impressive skills of guard Sabrina Ionescu. It is stars such as these that have continued to embody the Mamba Mentality in everything they do, carrying on Kobe’s legacy and showing Gigi what she, too, was capable of.

On Jan. 26, 2020 this powerful father-daughter duo was involved in a helicopter accident just outside of Los Angeles, where they, along with seven others, tragically lost their lives. All on board were headed to the girls’ basketball practice at Mamba Academy, an endeavour started by Kobe in an effort to provide a space where athletes of all ages could unlock their fullest potential with regards to sports.

While the world mourned the loss of Kobe, the idolized basketball player who served as one of the greatest of all time, the internet highlighted another aspect of his identity: being a father. Despite making his mark on the Lakers organization and the NBA as a whole, Kobe was able to yet again redefine himself in terms of his commitment to the game of basketball after his retirement. Through the eyes of his daughter Gianna, Kobe began to delve into the female side of the game, guiding Gigi along a similar athletic path as his own. As Kobe took the backseat concerning his own game, Gigi began to light the way, introducing her father to the magic of women in sports.

Bryant himself was incredibly proud of all of his daughters, as ESPN sports anchor Elle Duncan—who was pregnant with her daughter at the time—reminisced on a moment spent with Kobe when he said, “Just be grateful that you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing… I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”

For the second time, Kobe Bryant became known as having yet another side to his character, transforming from simply Kobe, to the Black Mamba, to a very proud girl dad. In this fashion, Kobe Bryant was far more than just one of the best athletes that the world has ever seen. Behind all of the fame and the glory, Kobe was more importantly a strong husband, a giving friend, a loyal son and perhaps most heroically, a loving father to all of his daughters. 

These seemingly separate identities have now forged into one, as we continue to remember Kobe, Gianna and the seven others who lost their lives all too soon. May their legacy and memories continue to empower us to be the best version of ourselves everyday.