Column: Goodbye Black Mamba

By Brian Yauger

Rest in peace Kobe Bryant. I never thought I’d have to say those words anytime soon.

Hell, I thought Kobe would outlive me. He just seemed like one of those guys who would be around forever. He seemed like one of those legends of the game we’d see for a long time after he retired, like Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Every time I read it, it still doesn’t seem real. I don’t know how long it’ll take to settle in.

When the news broke Sunday, it felt like the entire world came to a screeching halt. I typed this in a press box while covering a game because it’s the only thing that I could think about. I sat there almost in tears writing this while trying to work because I haven’t been able to even begin to comprehend what happened.

ESPN personalities cried on-air and players were in tears on the bench. Mike Breen, announcer for the New York Knicks, fought through tears, just as the players on the court did.

“I just don’t feel like broadcasting, and I know a lot of players don’t feel like playing,” Breen said.

I didn’t really become a basketball fan until I became an adult, but even I remember the 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, and I watched Bryant’s final game live on TV. 

I can’t even fathom how someone who grew up watching Kobe feels if this is how I’m feeling despite not growing up watching him.

Watching him as a kid or not, there’s no denying his impact. I mean, you don’t see anyone yelling “Jordan” or “LeBron” when throwing something in the trash. Little things like that show how influential he was to the game.

On the playgrounds of middle schools, if they weren’t pretending to be LeBron, every kid wanted to be Kobe.

We’ve all known about Kobe Bryant the legendary basketball player, but since his retirement we’ve begun to meet Bryant the father. 

While never publicly repenting for his prior legal issues, by all accounts Kobe appeared to have turned over a new leaf, taking care of four daughters with his wife Vanessa as well as becoming one of the biggest advocates for women’s basketball. 

Kobe coached his second oldest daughter, Gianna, who also passed, in Amateur Athletic Union basketball. By watching her highlights, you could tell she was a chip off the old block.

In a story told on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Kobe explained that people would come up to him and say they hoped he would have a son to continue that legacy. Gianna would be right by his side, and without missing a beat, she’d reply: 

“Wait, I got this.”

He definitely began to soften as he got older. 

In the last post he made on social media, not even 24 hours before his passing, Bryant, the most ruthless competitor on the court, praised LeBron for passing his all-time scoring record. 

As fierce as he was, there’s no doubt he loved the game and loved watching the younger generation grow the game, just as he did during the ‘90s and 2000s.

Thanks for everything Kobe. What you did for the game will never be forgotten. This is my “Kobe Year,” (24) and I hope to carry a little bit of that “Mamba Mentality” with me every day.

Rest easy, Kobe, Gianna; my thoughts are with everyone affected.