Ian Dempsey ‘21
The Black Mamba and his signature “Mamba Mentality” can now live on forever. Immortalized among the greatest players of the National Basketball Association, or NBA, the legacy of the late Kobe Bryant will always hold a special place in many people's hearts.
Bryant, who played 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers as a shooting guard, had his life taken away in a tragic helicopter crash over one year ago. The accident took place just outside downtown Los Angeles in Calabasas, a city located within the Santa Monica region. Not only was Bryant killed but so was his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with seven others, including the pilot.
In his tenure with the Lakers, Bryant compiled five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, one NBA MVP Award, 18 NBA All-Star Game appearances, four NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards, two NBA scoring championships, and so much more. He wore No. 8 but then switched to No. 24 at the start of the 2006-2007 season as his success with both jersey numbers was inevitable, resulting in the Lakers to retire both numbers into the rafters.
Yet, let’s rewind all the way back to the day he was drafted on June 26, 1996. From Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ, home to the New Jersey Nets at the time, the Charlotte Hornets were ready to announce the thirteenth pick of the first round. However, little did anybody know that this pick was going to be traded to the Lakers. That selection ended up being a 17-year-old straight out of high school named Kobe Bryant, and the rest was history. To this day, the Hornets probably still regret making that deal as they could have potentially landed one of the best to ever play the game.
While Bryant deserved an immense amount of solidarity from the crowd at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., it is worth noting the rest of the nine-member class that was inducted on this special night.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets power forward/center Kevin Garnett and former San Antonio Spurs power forward/center Tim Duncan were also enshrined. Between these two big men, they respectively won a combined six NBA championships, three NBA MVP Awards, and two NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards, while earning 30 NBA All-Star Game appearances. Garnett also was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, the same year he won his only NBA championship with the Celtics, and from 2004-2007, he was the NBA rebounding champion. On the other hand, Duncan also was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1998 and was the NBA Teammate of the Year in 2015. Four-time National Coach of the Year Eddie Sutton, two-time NBA Champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich, ten-time WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings, three-time NCAA National Championship Coach of the University of Baylor Kim Mulkey, five-time Division II National Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens, and longtime FIBA executive Patrick Baumann rounded out the rest of this prestigious group.
But the most important of them all was Bryant, and not having him present in that moment was tough. Because of his untimely death, his wife Vanessa, accompanied by Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time who was a member of the Chicago Bulls, honored him with a lovely speech. She highlighted the pain and struggle of the gruesome injuries that her husband fought through in some of the games he played, as well as the people who doubted him and how he proved them wrong.
Comeback stories always give out chills to their viewers yet with Bryant’s career resume, it was more than just chills. Drops of tears and pure joy were what his supporters experienced when they watched him on the big screen and live in-person. This was most notable in the Lakers’ playoff runs and their quest to five NBA championships.
While he had numerous game-winning shots and clutch moments, his truest “Mamba Mentality” showed in Game 4 of the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals on April 30 against the Phoenix Suns. After nailing down a shot to tie the game and send it to overtime, it would all come down to one last play. 6.1 seconds were remaining and there was a jump ball at midcourt, with the Lakers trailing 98-97. The ball was tipped back to Bryant but nearly went out of bounds as he saved it and then dribbled up the court, needing to get a shot off before the buzzer. Say no more, as he pulled up from the right elbow over two defenders and it was nothing but net. 99-98 Lakers the jumbotron read as the crowd at Staples Center went ecstatic.
This iconic shot truly defined who Bryant was, a man of his people. Rest in peace to one of the greatest of all time to ever do it.