Different Animal, Same Beast




This was an article I never expected to write. I was actually in the middle of another article, but something really hit me about this, which is crazy because I‘m not a Lakers fan and I wasn’t really a huge Kobe fan growing up. But then I realized something. Sport, to me, is and always has been my fairy tales. When I was a kid, it was Michael Jordan introducing me to the beauty that was basketball. As I grew up, Allen Iverson and Terrell Owens and Michael Vick showed me how to do things with style and swagger. Streetball was a way of life in middle school and some of my best memories are playing basketball all summer with my best friends, riding bikes from court to court. When I went to high school, I copied my running style after Usain Bolt - or at least I tried to. I watched every game in that legendary 2008 Final Four, watching this badass bruiser named Joey Dorsey and first hearing about Derrick Rose. As I got older, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose went from heroes to idols. To this day, I want a seersucker suit because Joakim Noah at the draft.


But before Carmelo Anthony, before Derrick Rose, there was Kobe. My family is from chicago, but like a lot of kids in the early 2000s, I loved the Lakers. It felt like the Bulls 2.0 with Ron Harper and Phil Jackson still around. Add the exuberant joy of Shaq and the youthful ambition of Kobe Bryant and those gold jerseys were something special. But as I got older, I saw the ugly. The sexual assault in 2003, forcing Shaq out in 2004, I credit this time, me being ten years old and moving to Hawaii as the beginning of me growing up. Years passed, and it took a long time to really understand more and more of the world. But Kobe Bryant was still teaching me. Teaching me about public perception, teaching me about how to make the most of second chances. From the reconciliation with is parents to staying with his wife after years of near-divorce, it was weird to see someone grow.


I tried to explain why Kobe Bryant's death hit me so hard, and I realized something. If sports are my fairy tales, athletes are the princes and princesses and every pitch and court is a kingdom and every game is a new dragon to slay. But how many times do we see our heroes grow? When Kobe began his career in 1996, I was two years old. When he won his first title in 2000, I was starting kindergarten. When the three-peat ended in 2002, I was eight years old, first playing basketball competitively. During the controversies in 2004, I was ten years old, moving from California to Hawaii. His 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals began and ended my time in high school and his epic NBA Finals trilogy with the Boston Celtics punctuated my time during high school. Unlike any other athlete, Kobe Bryant was there, performing at the highest level. By the time he retired in 2016, I was 22, learning about the real world from a soldier's perspective.





Last year, my family got ESPN+ and I started watching Detail, his film breakdowns on current NBA stars. Listening to his voice, there's a sense of wisdom and gravity, matched only by a palpable passion and love and respect for basketball. This gave me a whole new perspective on Kobe Bryant. This wasn't the guy who forced Shaq to Miami. This wasn't the guy who scored 81 points against Toronto or who led the Lakers to the Finals three times in as many years. This was an NBA sage, a living legend who simply wanted to make others better. To borrow from his greatest marketing slogan, this was a different animal, but the same beast. The Kobe Bryant I'll always remember isn't just the basketball player. It's a man who won NBA championships as well as an Oscar. It's a man who changed how an entire generation wore basketball shoes due to his love of soccer. It's a man who encouraged his daughters to succeed in their chosen paths, not forcing them to follow in his footsteps, but still teaching and mentoring his daughters in what they chose to do. To me, Kobe Bryant is a beacon of determined growth and change, never letting himself settle into one role.





We've heard a lot about Mamba Mentality, much like how we heard a lot about The Marathon Continues when fellow Los Angeles legend Nipsey Hussle passed. But to me, both these things are inspiring. Because if there's one thing we can learn from Kobe Bryant, it's that constantly growing and rebuilding in the relentless pursuit of excellence isn't just for being on the court. It's in every aspect of your life. Whether it's the athletic joy in youth as his afro punctuates his #8 era or the graceful skill of age as a shaved head coolly dominates in his #24 era or even the act of bowing out with the poise and elegance of retirement, Kobe Bryant was a lesson on how to grow beyond what you can be.


Rest in peace, Kobe.


Thank you for teaching me how to be a different animal, but the same beast.



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