I woke up to a nightmare. Kobe Bryant is dead. He was 41.
It’s odd to shed tears for a basketball player whom I hated for more than half of my life.
My first basketball heartbreak came from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002. They defeated the Sacramento Kings in a controversial seven game series. I was nine.
Ever since, I hated the Lakers and everyone who played for them. I relished the moments when the Lakers failed—when Kobe failed. When he blew a 3-1 lead, when he got swept in the playoffs, and when he cried when the Lakers got eliminated.
Incidentally, in 2003, I watched LeBron James’ first game in the NBA against the Kings. I was in awe. I followed him—someone who most Kobe stans hated—wherever he went.
A day before Kobe’s death, LeBron passed Kobe in the all-time scoring list. Kobe’s last social media post was about LeBron. LeBron, now a Laker, also talked at length about how Kobe mattered to him and how passing him in the scoring list meant so much, mentioning things about the “universe”, “it don’t make no sense”, and things “organically” happening.
Somehow, it felt poetic. It was so unreal.
Kobe Bryant was a complex individual. He won an MVP, 5 NBA championships, and two Finals MVP. He was a winner. His ruthlessness and unrivaled work ethic and desire to win—Mamba Mentality—made him for better and for worse, stand out. Everyone had an opinion about him. He was a hero to many, and a villain to everyone else.
In 2003, Kobe was accused of rape by a 19-year-old female hotel employee in Colorado. His team made a smear campaign that effectively silenced the woman. He later on admitted that it was not consensual. As a woman and a person who has PTSD from experiencing multiple sexual assaults, I could not for the life of me understand how this was fair.
In 2006, three years after that incident, Kobe changed his number from 8 to 24. It was also after a couple of years that he failed to bring the Lakers to a championship post-Shaq. He called himself the Black Mamba. It felt like a rebirth.
Kobe would later on win league MVP in 2008 and back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. He retired in 2016, ending his career with a win in an epic comeback against the Utah Jazz. He scored 60 points and eclipsed GSW’s historic 73-win record.
Off the court, Kobe became vocal and active in supporting women, particularly women in sports. He was also an excellent storyteller, winning an Oscar for his short film about his love for basketball. His company published inspiring stories with girls as lead characters. He became an inspiration to many more girls and boys around the world.
He was also a devoted father to his daughters and a mentor to many athletes. From time to time, I’d watch pros from various sports talk about Kobe and how he has helped them overcome challenges. They’d always say this is what people don’t know about him.
It’s impossible for anyone to say if Kobe truly had done enough to correct his faults. And it would be unfair to that woman, in particular, to conclude that he did. But I’d like to think that Kobe put in the effort to become a better person.
Certainly, Kobe’s past should not be glossed over, and he’s imperfect like all of us. But from all the years I followed the NBA and hated Kobe Bryant, here’s what I learned from him: always put the work in to get better. And he strived for better all the time. His quest was always for perfection—even if it was impossible to achieve.
This quest was what made him a champion.
I hated Kobe Bryant because he was great—one of the best to ever do it. Sports hating is the biggest respect you can give to someone you actively root against. In his 20-year career, Kobe broke my heart several times, and yet, his death felt like I lost someone very dear to me.
I am immensely heartbroken.
My heart aches that the world lost a basketball legend and I feel overwhelming sympathy for his wife, daughters, family and everyone who died and lost someone in that fatal helicopter crash.
It’s only the first month of 2020. And the world already feels like it’s in shambles. I hope one way or another, we’d keep the best parts of Mamba Mentality to become better people.
Rest in Power, Kobe Bryant. #MambaForever
Patriz Biliran and Regina Peñarroyo co-run The Ampersand and write blog articles in their free time.