On January 26, 2020, one year ago today, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven other passengers lost their lives in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. Kobe had a complicated past, but ultimately was a source of inspiration for millions across the globe. Whether on the basketball court for an NBA Finals game or for an elementary school Father-Daughter dance, Kobe lived his life to the fullest. Interact’s Susie Adams remembers The Black Mamba below.
It is hard to believe that Kobe Bryant’s death preceded COVID, the summer’s civil unrest, a presidential election, an assault on the capital and a presidential inauguration. It has just been a year, but it seems like a lifetime ago.
There are some events where you never forget where you were when you heard. The helicopter crash that took Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, is one of those for me. I was at my mom’s and I was walking my dog. A news alert flashed on my phone. I didn’t believe it, so I started checking Twitter and news sites. It was true. It shook me.
I’m not a big basketball fan, but Kobe Bryant was transcendent. One of the best basketball players of the generation, he was more than that. Kobe was gone too soon with his beautiful daughter and the others who took that ill-fated helicopter flight with them.
Becoming The Black Mamba
I knew he was called The Black Mamba, but I did not know all of the details about how he adopted this alter ego and how it became his persona and his brand.
It came out of a dark period. In 2003, he was accused of sexual assault after an encounter in a Colorado hotel. Ultimately charges were dropped, but the damage was done. A marriage was wounded, and a previously strong reputation was sullied.
One night Kobe was watching the movie Kill Bill which features a scene with a lethal Black Mamba used by an assassin to kill an enemy. He decided at that moment to embrace the villain and he began speaking of himself as The Black Mamba.
As he said in the documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse: “I went from a person who was at the top of his game, had everything coming, to a year later, having absolutely no idea where life is going or if you are even going to be a part of life as we all know it … I had to separate myself. It felt like there were so many things coming at once. It was just becoming very, very confusing. I had to organize things. So I created ‘The Black Mamba.'”
He loved the idea of the speed, the temperament, and the lethalness of The Black Mamba. He also loved the idea of shedding your skin. It was a perfect nickname.
Over time Black Mamba became synonymous with Kobe Bryant. And he began to talk about “Mamba Mentality.” It’s the “simplest form of just trying to get better at whatever you’re doing.”
And he manifested it by outworking everyone. He got to the court first and he left last. He put in the reps to get better every day. And he let his work ethic intimidate his teammates and his opponents. They knew he outworked them.
And that work ethic extended beyond basketball. When he started business ventures, he would call experts as early as 3am to pick their brains or get their advice.
He taught himself to play The Moonlight Sonata as a surprise for his wife, Vanessa. He won an Oscar for a short film, Dear Basketball, based on a poem he wrote for The Players Tribune after his retirement.
And he worked hard at being a great dad to four girls. He started using helicopters to speed his commute in busy Los Angeles so that he could spend time with his family, packing as much as he could into every 24 hours. He died in that helicopter with Gianna and seven others on their way to basketball practice.
After Kobe’s death, ESPN anchor Elle Duncan described a moving encounter with Kobe when she was pregnant with her first daughter. “I asked him for advice on raising girls, seeing as though he quite famously had three at the time, and he said just be grateful that you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing,” Duncan said.
“His third daughter, Bianka, was about a year-and-a-half old at the time, so I asked if he wanted more children, and he said that his wife, Vanessa, really wanted to try again for a boy but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. And I was like, ‘Four girls, are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?’ And without hesitation, he said, ‘I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a ‘girl dad.'”
He made #girldad a thing.
At his memorial, there was testimony after testimony of Kobe’s drive. There were also stories after stories about hands out and hands up. The last text Kobe sent was orchestrating an internship for the daughter of one of the people in the helicopter with him. His history is imperfect. His lessons on leaving a legacy are pretty perfect.
Kobe once said, “You have to work hard in the dark to shine in the light.” We can help you tell your story of overcoming and of hard work.
“If you do the work, you work hard enough dreams come true. Those times you would get up early and you work hard, those times that you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself but you do it anyway, that is actually the dream.
That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” – Kobe Bryant
Some Closing Thoughts
A year after his passing, we continue to admire Kobe Bryant for his incredible work ethic, both on and off the court. He holds numerous NBA records, was the 2008 NBA MVP, and won 5 NBA Championships and an Academy Award. While those are all impressive, we know for a fact that Kobe would say that the greatest accomplishment of his life is becoming the father to 4 wonderful daughters. He may be gone, but The Black Mamba will never be forgotten. His legacy is eternal.