By Lindsey Reynolds | Contributor
On April 13, 2016, with a mic drop performance and a salutary fist in the air, Kobe Bryant, a 20-season Laker veteran, punctuated a legendary NBA career.
A graceful exit from the NBA signaled his entrance into a dutiful second act. Filled with purpose and the “Mamba Mentality,” Bryant focused his energy on inspiring the next generation of basketball greats, including his young daughters.
On Sunday, over three years later, a devastating Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crash left Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, along with seven others, dead. The helicopter was headed to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. for a youth basketball event when it crashed. This tragedy shocked many across the nation.
In a transparent Instagram post, Priyatham Kurapati, a Philadelphia-based Baylor alumnus, expressed the emotional toll the news of Bryant’s death imposed on him.
“You immortalize certain people, fictional or real, in a way that they will always come out on top… to a point where they achieve a god-like status,” Kurapati wrote. “I never thought I’d be affected this much by the death of a person I’ve never met. I’ve been essentially living alone since I was 15 and that forces you to rely on certain public figures for inspiration. Kobe was my biggest one.”
As a young Kenyan immigrant, Baylor basketball alumnus and FIBA Eurocup player Anunwa “Nuni” Omot, remembered the first American basketball player he saw. That player was Kobe Bryant.
“I didn’t have an easy upbringing,” Omot said. “I wasn’t getting recruited like crazy outside of high school, but the reason why Kobe impacted me, not only because of his determination, his dedication and hard work, was just the type of person he was. He impacted so many people because of his will to not only get better for himself, but he wanted to make others better as well. That’s something you don’t come across a lot in the NBA.”
Inspired by Bryant, Omot developed an incredible work ethic, one that led him to play in a prestigious Baylor basketball program despite having almost no attention from Division I recruiters out of high school.
Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” was not limited to the court, nor to basketball fans. The former NBA star branded this mindset as a propellant for success in all areas and aspirations of one’s life. This same mentality led Bryant to be more than just a high-profile athlete, but to also be an outstanding businessman and venture capitalist as he invested millions of dollars into media, technology and philanthropy networks.
“Mamba mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most,” Bryant told Amazon Book Review on Oct. 23, 2018. “It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit. It started just as a hashtag that came to me one day, and it’s grown into something athletes — and even non-athletes — embrace as a mindset. The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.”
Late Sunday, Birmingham senior Michael Rankins posted a video via Instagram capturing his emotion-filled response to the tragic event that took place earlier that day.
“You would think that if any of them were to have joined the old ones, like Jerry West, it was going to be Kobe Bryant,” Rankins said.
Rankins said he was most emotional about the fact that Bryant had not been able to use his platform to the full extent he had intended. Bryant had created, among other things, a scripted podcast called “The Punies” intended to encourage children and bring about mental health awareness in a creative way. Bryant also coached an all-girls basketball team, of which his late daughter Gianna and her two teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, were a part. All three girls lost their lives in the crash Sunday.
Bryant’s impact on the game is undeniable, yet his status as an exemplary husband and father reached across socio-economic boundaries and into the minds of inspired young men and women across the nation.
“(He) showed us that you can set yourself a goal so incomprehensibly high at such a young age, and maniacally work towards it,” Kurapati wrote. “And even if you don’t explicitly reach that goal… you would still accomplish things that no one ever thought would be possible. Most importantly, he didn’t limit that drive to just basketball. He transcended that energy across family, friends, hobbies, and life.”
“For him to be the good dad, the good husband, the person who works hard, that’s the impact and the image that we needed to see,” Rankins said. “He wins a championship, and then goes to the gym at 5 a.m. the next day. I’m going to medical school, and when I didn’t want to study, I would think about that and tell myself ‘I think you can read another Power Point slide.’”
When asked about the impact Bryant had on the country, Omot said his impact was not exclusive to the U.S., and that people around him in Europe and even further abroad felt the weight of this tragedy. Bryant’s impact on culture will never expire.
“He’s a superhero to a lot of people, especially to the black community,” Omot said. “A lot of us, a lot of African-Americans, we idolized him growing up. We all wanted to have a little afro like him when he was No. 8. It was just the culture, and whenever we used to crumple up a piece of paper in class and shoot it in the trash can, one thing we will always remember is what we said when we shot it: Kobe.”