… it still feels surreal. Today would‘ve been your 42nd birthday. Every year I see hundreds of Instagram Stories and pictures wishing you a happy and blessed day. But it’s different this year. This year everyone is writing “R.I.P.“ or “wish you were still with us“ or “still can’t believe you’re gone“. And it’s just as unbelievable as it’s been for the past seven months. Seven months ago you left this world and it still feels like yesterday. It still feels surreal.
I wanted to write you this letter. No “R.I.P.”, no “wish you were still with us“. Just the pure expression of gratitude and appreciation. Because there were so many things about you that inspired me and millions of others. There are so many lessons that you taught us. Maybe I can put some of them into the right words:
It was the beginning and ending of your career that taught us to never leave the path of greatness, no matter the circumstances. You came into the NBA as a 17-year-old – you didn’t care. You were the first guard drafted straight out of high school – you didn’t care. You were telling people from the very start how you wanted to be the greatest player ever, how you wanted to be better than Michael Jordan. You were 37 when you played your last game – you didn’t care. You dropped 60 points on the Utah Jazz. Fans and experts were talking about how you were “too young” or “too old” – you just didn’t care.
It was your ability to tune out the haters and doubters that taught us to always believe in ourselves, no matter what other people are saying. You proved that you could be one of the best players ever. You proved that you were more than just Shaq’s sidekick and that you could win championships without him. You proved that you could be a team player and a leader. You proved the haters and the doubters wrong again and again.
It was your work ethic and dedication that taught us that hard work always pays off. You were always the first person in the gym and the last one to leave. You spent countless hours training or watching film. Even MJ said that you were the only one matching his work ethic. You set the highest possible standard. You always demanded 110% from yourself and your teammates. You didn’t accept anything less than excellence. You knew that there are no shortcuts to greatness. The Mamba Mentality became a battle cry for all the warriors and hard workers. You taught us to never be satisfied and to always outwork everyone else.
It was your 20-year-career with the Lakers that taught us about loyalty. Through ups and downs your heart remained purple and gold. You loved Los Angeles, you loved the fans and you loved the Lakers. To stay with the same franchise for 20 years is just incredible. Players like you, Timmy D and Dirk showed us how far loyalty can get you. And for that you deserve a special place in NBA history.
It was your toughness and fearlessness that taught us that there’s always a way. You played through a lot of injuries in your career. The time you made two free throws and walked off the court after tearing your Achilles is legendary. You didn’t let yourself be stopped by pain or hardships. You always found a way to fight through it, even though it meant slowly destroying your body. Because winning was more important than pain. Winning was your ultimate goal and there was no obstacle big enough to stand in your way – not even your own physical limitations.
It was your mistakes that taught us it’s all right to be flawed. The human being Kobe Bryant wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. That’s why you created the Black Mamba. To separate the flawed human being from the killer on the basketball court. The Black Mamba could do what Kobe Bryant couldn’t: be a villain. Many people hated you for the player you were. But off the court you learned from your mistakes and took responsibility for them. You became a role model for a lot of husbands and fathers. You accepted your flaws and always tried to be a better version of yourself – as we all should.
It was the years after your retirement that taught us to never stop dreaming. You won five rings, became one of the best players of all time and even scored more points than your idol Michael Jordan. You did everything you set out to do and more. You had nothing left to prove to anybody. But you weren’t done. You won an Oscar, wrote children’s books, put a lot of work into your Mamba Sports Academy. You still followed your dreams and set new goals for yourself. You put the same amount of dedication and will power into your retirement as you did into your NBA career.
And now it is your legacy that we keep alive. By taking all your lessons to heart. Because you taught us to never leave the path of greatness. You taught us to always believe in ourselves. You taught us that hard work always pays off. You taught us about loyalty. You taught us that there’s always a way. You taught us it’s all right to be flawed. You taught us to never stop dreaming.
You’re the reason I started this blog. I’m trying to live by the lessons you taught me. Sadly, I’ll never be able to thank you personally for that. But for what it’s worth: I’ll never stop yelling “KOBE” every time I throw a paper ball at the trash can.
Happy Birthday, Kobe. And thank you for your lessons.