The Athlete, The Father, The Legend…
By Tom Macasaet
Fri, 31 Jan 2020
On August 23, 1978, a child was brought into this world. Little did the parents know, or the world for that matter, what impact this child would have in the world of sports when he grew up. Like the restaurant menu item he was named after, he would be classified as the finest of his class. He grew up around the sport his father played, and it brought him to different parts of the world where he would learn the sport himself while learning different cultures and languages.
But destiny would bring him and his family back home to the U.S.
Ardmore, Pennsylvania to be exact, where he would attend Lower Merion High School, become top high school player in the country in the sport of basketball. His accomplishments would not go unnoticed by the NBA, and he would forego college to enter the NBA draft.
He was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, but immediately traded to the Lakers, where he would play his entire professional career until his retirement due to the physical wear and tear on his body. It was the result of playing at such a high level under such high expectations he placed on himself to be the best for 20 straight years. In those years, his achievements would propel him to the level of greatness only few had achieved before him.
5 NBA Championship titles, multiple MVP awards, 18 consecutive NBA All-star appearances, 2 Olympic gold medals, slam dunk champion. He was the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. He scored an astonishing 81 points in a single game against the Toronto Raptors.
When you thought his days in the spotlight were behind him after retiring from the NBA, he would take his passion for poetry onto the big screen, making an animated short film based on his poem “Dear Basketball”. It would go on to win an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film”, the first time an Oscar would be won by a former professional athlete.
But all the accolades and accomplishments would never outshine his proudest achievement, becoming a father to 4 beautiful daughters. He went from being the most feared player on the basketball court to a loving father at home for Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and little Capri Kobe.
He didn’t spend his time after retirement finding other ways to further his fame and notoriety. He spent it with the people he loved, doing things he loved to do. He would work to make up for lost time while he was in the NBA.
Through all the ups and downs, he and his wife, Vanessa, would finally be the parents they wanted to be to their daughters.
The practicing Catholic would not yearn for what God did not bless him with, but rather cherish the blessings God already gave him. People would tell him he needed to have a boy to follow in his footsteps. But he already had his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, a future WNBA superstar, already showing the same skills her father had on the court. She was probably gonna be even better than him, and he would've wanted nothing less.
He would start the Mamba Basketball Academy in Thousand Oaks and give back to the youth by giving them a place where he could share his gifts with others that shared the same love for the game as him. He would help them develop their skills and live their dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete themselves. And on one of those teams was his daughter Gianna, who could be seen in videos running the court and sinking 3 pointers along with her teammates. In the videos, you would see dad sitting on the bench watching all the action, the look of pure pride as he would clap his hands after she would make her shot.
That’s what brought him joy. That’s what gave his life new meaning, new purpose.
He would become a huge supporter of the WNBA, tweeting shout outs to different star players whenever he saw the opportunity to give credit where it was due.
To know the impact his words would have on someone, as it probably did for him as he grew up meeting his own heroes.
He understood his new place outside the arena, and it was even greater than he could ever have imagined. He had it all ahead of him, and he would be able to enjoy it with his family. Tragically, it would not come to be.
It was on that fateful Sunday morning of January 26th, that he and Gianna, two of her teammates, their parents, and the pilot took off after early morning mass to head over the Calabasas hills to attend the final day of the weekend tournament held at the Mamba Basketball Academy in Thousand Oaks.
They would never make it to the tournament.
All 9 of them perished in the crash. The whole world felt the loss and is still struggling to grasp the tragic reality of the sudden end to such precious lives. Kobe Bean Bryant will always be remembered for the greatness he was on the basketball court, and kids will continue to scream his name as they drive towards the basket for a layup because they’re still too short to dunk the ball.
Mamba Basketball Academy will continue to carry on his legacy. His foundations will continue to help others in his name. His Academy Award-winning film will be watched over and over again for generations to come, and his surviving wife, Vanessa, daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri Kobe will live on holding their lost family members close to their hearts. One Kobe's last tweets were in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day:
"The best way to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to ensure kids understand his purpose, message and impact so that they can carry it forward. This is a great way to start teaching them." #MLKDay https://t.co/U5mWmgOFts
-from Twitter/Kobe Bryant
You could easily replace MLK's name with Kobe Bryant, and it would be just as powerful.
Thank you, Kobe, for sharing your gifts with us while you were here. You're memory will live on through the hearts of every young and old NBA fan from now to forever.
Click here to view a list of other articles written by Tom Macasaet.
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