The day is Sunday, January 26th, and the year is 2020. When one looks outside, they see the clear yet crisp air of a winter day, thankful that the temperature has not dropped below fifty degrees, yet. Just twenty-four hours prior, I was exploring Denver, celebrating my nineteenth birthday with some friends. Life continues, uninterrupted. In the present, I sit at my desk in my dorm room of Bradford Hall, just feet away from one of my roommates. While I do research for Economics, he does post-lab work for Organic Chemistry. Nothing is out of the ordinary. We don our coats for lunch, depart, and return in less than thirty minutes to continue the work we often put off until Sunday. Just as I resettle into my typing, headphones inhabiting the space around my ears and blasting classic rock as they usually do, everything falls. I hear commotion in the hallway, and I turn my head to observe the heightened energy of my floormates. “It sounds like a joke,” one states. “I know, because he’s Kobe Bryant,” another replies. I seize my headphones away from my skull and move to the hallway to confirm my suspicions. “So, what’s the joke?”
“There is no joke,” someone, looking me in the eyes, declares, “Kobe Bryant died.”
On the day in question, famous basketball player Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven other individuals were forced to depart from this world in an unfortunate helicopter crash just outside of Calabasas, California. A total freak accident no one could have seen coming, the news shook the world by its axis every time another soul heard that, once again, an icon was taken before their time. Worldwide superstars of various fields all wane to their ultimate end, such as Stephen Hawking and Toni Morrison, but sudden death almost always reminds us of the cruelty of chance and total mortality of human existence. For myself, I could not help but message my close friends and family, wondering the entire time how our very own folk hero could disappear like nothing more than a fallen leaf at the will of the wind.
As one who developed and matured in the Southern California region, Kobe Bryant stood taller than anyone; a legend amongst even the legends. Football subsisted itself away from the Los Angeles Area, baseball offered promising players that came and went without ever truly defining themselves, and soccer… well, soccer… my point speaks for itself. Outside of these sports, basketball produced champions comparable in fame to Olympic athletes. These included stars Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard, but Kobe almost always rose to the top as the symbol of the west coast and all of its citizens. As one who reflects too much for his own good, I believe Kobe extended beyond his reputation as a basketball player, so I took to interviewing a variety of individuals to understand the impact such a figure could have on their lives. I intended to ask one question: “What did Kobe Bryant mean to you?”
Unsurprisingly, I could not manage to track down almost any Mines students with the time to talk about Kobe Bryant and his impact on the world. Whether it be due to an extensive report for a research project or the need to study for an impending test (Differential Equations Honors students, I share your pain), I could not obtain any more in responses other than remarks about his fame and power as a player (if any readers would like to be interviewed for a future article on sports culture here at Mines, please contact me at email@example.com). I felt the search for the meaning in the man rather than the player might have been a lost cause, but then I happened to encounter my floormate of Bradford Hall and fellow Oredigger writer, Aiden Lewis. He offered the insight I needed to understand Kobe’s effect outside of the game: a meme. Upon asking Aiden the general question of what Kobe Bryant meant to him, he simply responded, “I do not watch basketball. All I know about Kobe Bryant is that he was famous, though I also know that anyone shooting a piece of paper into a trashcan says his name.” This last remark hit me in the back of the head, the ruler from a forceful school teacher, and I was finally understanding the lesson. This reply–this insight–remains as the most effective explanation of Kobe’s reach. How else may one concisely define the impact of a star, if not through a long-lasting internet meme? Originating back in 2004 in a skit by Dave Chapelle, the exclamation has gone on to span three decades and many cultures all trying to land the shot they know Kobe Bryant would. The shot that would be made by the giant from L.A., the Black Mamba of basketball. Kobe Bryant not only played the game, but he defined success within the game. He defined the success all should put their best foot forward to reach, a bar that will forever be raised by his existence as a great player and a better warrior.
Even with his impact as a figure, one must remember Kobe Bryant as the man. With all of his money, fame, and influence, Kobe never took the route of the cliche, standoffish celebrity. He never picked fights in L.A. traffic, he never skipped to the front of the line at an In-N-Out Burger, and he never saw a talk show interview as anything less than an opportunity for an amicable conversation. He simply took life in the most cliche way: one step at a time. That is how he approached his game, his lifestyle, and, most importantly, his role as a father. Until his last moments, I am sure Kobe Bryant held his daughter tight to protect her from the crash and assure her everything would be okay. More than a player, Kobe Bryant lived his life as just another person.