By: Ismail Sy
Photo credit: NBA News
I was five years old, and I had just returned home from my first day of kindergarten. I finally got to see my mother again; it felt like ages since I last saw her, even though the last time I saw her was when she dropped me off at school just that morning. She told me she had a surprise for me waiting upstairs in the TV room. Now mind you, as a five-year-old I lived for the words “TV” and “candy.” Whenever I heard those words, I could not contain my excitement. I could not wait to see what it was, and it turns out this surprise would change my life forever.
My mother had turned on a hardwood classics game on NBA TV. The two teams that were playing were the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers. Hardwood Classics is a program that shows re-runs of legendary NBA games. My mother left the room, and said, “Enjoy, Ismail!” And enjoy it I did. I watched with such intent, and in such awe, as one player stole the show that afternoon: Kobe Bryant. I watched as Kobe dropped 81 points on the Raptors, the second highest number of points scored in an NBA game ever behind the late Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 100 points in a single game.
The author and his mom after she finished a the Scranton Marathon. She first introduced Sy to Kobe Bryant, who would soon be his future hero. Photo credit: Ismail Sy
When I came running down the stairs to my mother, I said “Mommy number 8 is the greatest player ever! I wanna be him when I grow up!” Kobe Bryant is the reason I picked up a basketball. He is the reason I love the game, and why I play it. Every time I play basketball, I give it my all, remembering the reason I picked up a basketball when I was five. This is why I was so distraught when I saw the news that Kobe Bryant had passed away, along with his amazing daughter Gianna. Words cannot describe the pain that I felt in my heart, not only for myself, but also for Kobe’s family, and for all the fans that revered him. He and his daughter will be profoundly missed.
Leading up to the 1996 draft, the buzz was all about Allen Iverson, the superstar guard from Georgetown. Other players like Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Marcus Camby were all that people talked about. No one realized that a high school senior from Lower Merion Township, just outside of Philly, would be the greatest player ever to come from this amazing draft class. Kobe Bryant. Originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Kobe was then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. At age seventeen, Bryant’s brilliance gave him the chance to live out his dream of playing in the NBA. He had been working for this since he was a little kid, and he was ready to create his own legacy. Lakers GM Jerry West knew he was taking a chance on the young kid, and he hope he would be rewarded. West knew greatness when he saw it, and Kobe proved him right.
For 20 YEARS, Kobe gave the Lakers every ounce of his heart every time he stepped on that basketball court: 5 championships; 18 all star selections; 9 time All NBA defensive first team selection. Two time Olympic gold medalist. But it goes well beyond that. Kobe meant so much to one organization, and one city not only for what he did on the court, but what he did off of it. He was a force in the community, helping people in need, and always willing to help make someone’s day. What he did in retirement as well, was nothing short of astounding as he won an Oscar for best animated short film Dear Basketball. Even teaching his daughter Gianna the game of basketball, as he never separated himself from her, and they were always seen courtside at Lakers games together. He even congratulated LeBron for passing him in scoring on Saturday night. His legacy is one of a role model that influenced an entire generation.
I just cannot believe that Kobe Bryant is dead. I would have never watched, or loved the game of basketball if it were not for him. I was so hurt when I saw the news break from TMZ Sunday afternoon. I was heartbroken, and I just cried my eyes out. It is not even the fact that he died, but his daughter went with him too. Gianna was a rising basketball star herself, and she was only 13 years old. She did not even get to live her whole life yet, or experience things that kids should be able to. Even though Kobe is gone, I just want to say thank you Kobe. Thank you for influencing not only myself but an entire generation. Thank you for showing us the values of hard work, and how a human being should carry him or herself in the world. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to love, and appreciate everything you did for the Lakers, and what you did for your family as well. Even though you are gone, I will always feel you in my heart, and never forget what you did for this world. My heart goes out to your wife Vanessa, and the three children you leave behind. I will never forget #24.
Bryant sits court-side with his 13 year old daughter Gigi, who was also among those lost in the tragic helicopter accident on Sunday. Photo credit: CBS Sports