Jeremy Berman asks our panel of basketball experts for their thoughts, memories, and lessons learned from basketball legend, Kobe Bryant.
Jeremy Berman: My favorite memory of Kobe was his final game. Putting up 60 points on 50 shots was certainly a fitting ending to his career, but what stood out to me was Kobe’s sheer desire to carry the team to victory. Even in this game that had no impact on the Lakers' ability to make the playoffs, the Mamba Mentality was just as apparent. The clip of him trying desperately to catch his breath… you could tell how exhausted he was, yet his drive and determination to will a victory, as he had done so often for 20 years, was so ridiculously inspiring. After every shot made, I could only stare at the screen in disbelief. What is the most impressionable memory you had of Kobe?
Matt Babcock: In 2001, I was a participant at the ABCD Camp in Teaneck, New Jersey. While at the camp, I had the opportunity to meet Kobe as he was a guest speaker. The main theme of his speech was that if we wanted to be great we needed to put the work in, no excuses. At the time, I was seventeen years old and soon to be a senior in high school with hopes of having a successful career as a basketball player. Kobe was twenty-two years old, was an NBA All-Star and had just recently won his second title with the Lakers. He practiced what he preached and was living out the dreams of every single player in that room that day because of it. When Kobe spoke, we not only listened, we hung on to each and every word studiously. He was truly inspiring. From that point on, I not only watched Kobe’s games religiously, I also followed his words just as closely. He has had a significant influence on me and I will certainly continue to use his words of wisdom to help guide me through my life and career moving forward.
Fran Fraschilla: My first reaction upon hearing the news of Kobe‘s passing was to think about, not what a great basketball player he was, but what a great father he seems to have been. Many of us are very fortunate to share our love of the game of basketball with our children, there is a special bond there like no other. It was obvious that Kobe had that with his daughter GiGi.
Matt McKay Jr: There are truly so many impressionable moments, it’s hard to pick one. I was a newly basketball-obsessed nine-year-old when Kobe was drafted 13th by the Hornets in ‘96. I taped the draft on VHS! But to answer the question, if I am forced to pick one moment, I would probably choose opening night in 2012, my first year working with the Trail Blazers. I’d watched Kobe countless times before, but it felt different this time: in-person, as an NBA employee, the deafening “BEAT L.A.!” chants roaring throughout the Rose Garden — Kobe dropped 30 that night. It felt like my official “welcome to the NBA moment,” and I’ll never forget it.
Jason Filippi: I find it simply impossible to single out one specific memory that stands out more than another - especially on the court - there are just too many (so many spectacular plays and game-winning shots). Instead, I would single out two less obvious images: the mental toughness he showed during his infamous trial where he would repeatedly fly to Colorado in the morning and return to LA in time for a game without missing a beat (he had several memorable games during that stretch and I don't even think he ended up skipping a single game during the legal proceedings). If that is not a sign of mental fortitude then I don't know what is. Also my last memory of him: the recent images of him sitting courtside this season with his beloved daughter Gigi sharing his knowledge and love of the game with her. Simply beautiful.
Wilbur Allen: I think we all agree Kobe left so many indelible memories with all of us. Three of them stand out this morning. The first one was Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals in Indiana. I was working at a basketball camp at Oak Hill Academy. I was a rising Senior. Kobe was 21. I marveled at Kobe's confidence at that moment. It was almost as if he was happy Shaq fouled out. He was waiting and just needed an opportunity to show what he learned from the air balls he shot in Salt Lake City his rookie season. The second one was Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston. You could tell for maybe the first time ever he was nervous. He wanted that game so badly. He shot it poorly but led his team to victory. I'll never forget every image of the celebrations after that victory. The third one was shooting the free throws after tearing his Achilles. I remember thinking that entire season he was playing too many minutes, but he’d do anything for the Lakers. I'll never forget him holding his ankle, knowing what had happened, standing up and knocking down two free throws, then walking to the locker room. Toughness; the ultimate sign of the Mamba Mentality.
Jeremy Berman: In his farewell speech after his last game, what stood out to me was a particular quote Kobe said: “I’m more proud of... the down years. Because we didn’t run. We played through all of that stuff and we got our championships. We did it the right way.” It just serves as a reminder that without the lows in life, we wouldn’t know what the highs felt like. Without struggle and adversity, we wouldn’t be able to grow into all that we are supposed to be. Kobe so clearly appreciated that and passed on the lesson of working hard in the face of adversity to generations. What is one lesson that you learned from Kobe?
Matt Babcock: There are so many quotes and lessons from Kobe that I live by, one in particular that I think about regularly is when he said: "When you make a choice and say, 'Come hell or high water, I am going to be this,' then you should not be surprised when you are that. It should not be something that is intoxicating or out of character because you have seen this moment for so long that when that moment comes, of course it is here because it has been here the whole time because it has been in your mind the whole time."
Fran Fraschilla: As a competitor and sportsman, Kobe’s indomitable will to compete and to be the very best transcended the sport of basketball. Combined with his love of soccer as a youth growing up in Italy, he was an incredibly popular sports figure in virtually every part of the world.
Matt McKay Jr: One lesson I learned from Kobe is that we can “rest in the end, not in the middle.” If we want something, we have to work for it. Kobe was a maniacal worker and someone that absolutely raised the bar for this current generation of basketball players. That quote will always resonate with me, regardless of the task at hand.
Jason Filippi: His legendary work ethic - some of which I have witnessed first hand (his laser focus stands out - his eyes looked almost like he was "possessed") and so many anecdotes about his discipline (religiously waking up at 5 am every day to work out) and determination to be the best and push himself to the limits are all very inspiring and should offer motivation to us all in anything we do.
Wilbur Allen: The biggest lesson I learned from Kobe was what preparation provides you. You could see him measuring everything on the court even with the killer look in his eyes. Post basketball, he showed us through various outlets that every action he took came from well thought out plans of attack. Planning and Preparation; another creed of the Mamba Mentality.
Jeremy Berman: To me, Kobe’s legacy is that of hard work, grit, and determination. As he said, he wanted to always be someone who was remembered for squeezing everything out of the orange. No matter how talented he was, he gave every bit of effort he could, outworking anyone and everyone. That’s what made him who he was, and that is the inspiration that so many people will take and apply to all aspects of life. In your mind, what defines Kobe’s legacy?
Matt Babcock: For me, what separates Kobe from many other great athletes was his level of determination. He never made excuses, seemingly learned from his mistakes, and he always persevered. Despite the many bumps in the road he faced both on and off the court, as a result of his “Mamba Mentality”, Kobe had a twenty-year, hall of fame career with only one team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and he had a beautiful family — he truly had it all. Yesterday was a horrid day. He will be sorely missed. Thank you for everything, Kobe! Rest In Peace.
Fran Fraschilla: As a basketball player, his spirit and competitiveness not only brought out the best in himself and his teammates, but it brought out the best in his opponents. And, that is the greatest compliment you can give an athlete. Kobe was an iconic figure and will be missed.
Matt McKay Jr: For me, it was Kobe’s fierce competitiveness, drive, work ethic, and killer instinct that defined his legacy during his playing career. It was also incredibly cool and touching to watch from afar how the next chapter of his life was beginning to play out, particularly with his relationship with family — you could tell that things like ‘Dear Basketball,’ ‘Detail,’ and what he was building at Mamba Academy were just the beginning of his post-playing legacy.
Jason Filippi: Kobe's legacy goes way beyond his accomplishments on the basketball court. The scope of his popularity worldwide was never as evident as it is today. I am living in Europe and this is all everyone has been talking about for the last 24 hours - even people who are not basketball fans seemed to have been touched by Kobe Bryant in some way and are mourning his death just as if they knew him personally. He was that popular, that influential, that much of a symbol and a true global icon. So many people, especially those born in the '80s and '90s, identified with him in ways that they could not even imagine themselves.
Wilbur Allen: It's really hard to think about Kobe's legacy at this moment. I knew what he meant to kids growing up in the 90's and early 2000's that played basketball. I knew what he meant to Lakers fans. I knew he was beloved in China. One of the things that really touched me yesterday was hearing the stories from so many different people he influenced just by living his life. I listened to him on the "Knuckleheads” podcast, and I loved his answer to how he would come back from injuries: "You can't look at the top of the mountain, cause the mountain is so damn daunting. So, I choose to focus on one step at a time, then by the time you realize it you are at the top of the mountain”. Thank you, Kobe, for sharing some of the keys to the Mamba Mentality. I hope his legacy lives on in everyone who strives to be the best version of themselves.