Gilson’s Sports Guide: Thank you, Kobe

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Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant holds the Larry O'Brien championship trophy and finals MVP trophy after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game 5 of the 2009-10 NBA basketball finals in Orlando, Fla. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.  Photo courtesy of David J. Phillip/AP Photo

Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant holds the Larry O’Brien championship trophy and finals MVP trophy after the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game 5 of the 2009-10 NBA basketball finals in Orlando, Fla. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41. Photo courtesy of David J. Phillip/AP Photo

On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2020, I was sitting in my family room, watching TV and getting ready to go to a hockey game with my dad. But at 2:32 p.m., what seemed like a normal weekend took a sharp turn for the worse, as the news that would shatter the hearts of millions broke: the news of Kobe Bryant’s passing.  

Now, I’m not here to tell you how incredible he was as a father or player. Nor am I here to talk about how hard these past few days have been coming to terms with the sudden passing of a seemingly invincible man. Instead, I wanted to dedicate my column this week to thanking Kobe Bean Bryant for inspiring me at such a young age when I felt lost and for playing a major role in me becoming the person I am today, even if neither of us knew it. Here’s how. 

I was raised in a sports-filled household. Whether it was going to my older brother’s countless baseball games, my sister’s soccer games or just sitting at home together watching reruns of the Packers or Yankees for hours, it’s an understatement to say my family liked sports. We were obsessed.  

Or at least everyone else in my family was. 

I always enjoyed watching my older siblings play, but in pro sports, it was tough for me to fully understand my family’s hype about it, particularly baseball, my brother and dad’s favorite sport. So, when it came to bonding over what seemed to consume the majority of our lives, I often felt disconnected from the rest because I did not share the immense passion they had and, frankly, was unsure if I ever would. 

But middle school rolled around, and I started hearing my classmates talk more and more about basketball. They talked about the fast-paced, hard-fought games they had witnessed and about legendary players like LeBron and Kobe. My family never seemed to watch basketball games, but I was instantly intrigued and desperate to find my niche in the vast world of sports, so I made sure that as soon as I got home, I did all my homework early so I could start watching the NBA after dinner.  

And just like that, everything clicked. 

Instead of the nine players on the diamond or 11 players on the gridiron doing their own part in getting the win, it was five guys, working cohesively as a unit, with one common goal. It was fast, unlike baseball; graceful, unlike football; and just flat out fun to watch. For the first time, I was able to pick which team I liked and start getting as excited for basketball as the rest of my family did for everything else. My love for the sport of basketball also enhanced my appreciation for other sports like football and soccer. I still can’t call myself a huge baseball guy, but hopefully we’ll get there at some point. 


Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose passes around Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie as Pistons guard Langston Galloway and Nets guard Kyrie Irving look on during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, in New York. The Nets defeated the Pistons 125-115.  Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens/AP Photo

Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose passes around Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie as Pistons guard Langston Galloway and Nets guard Kyrie Irving look on during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, in New York. The Nets defeated the Pistons 125-115. Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens/AP Photo

What really drew me into the sport, though, were the players. It blew my mind what these athletes were able to do on the court, whether it was Derrick Rose’s athleticism, LeBron’s insane combination of power and skill, Kevin Durant’s scoring or Kobe’s unwavering, never-ending, borderline-annoying passion and love for the game. Now for some, that may be an interesting way to describe Kobe, one of the most cold-blooded killers the league has ever seen, but for me, that is what makes a true athlete, and what separated him from the rest. A willingness to risk your body and give everything to the game on a nightly basis. To look beyond the comparisons, to form and win historic rivalries and to write your own history. That is what Kobe brought to the game. 

We all know what he did as a player. In fact, that is the majority of what The Daily Campus has been writing about (and rightfully so) this past week. But that is because he was a different breed. A man among boys, even after retirement. And as time went on, his patented “Mamba Mentality” became not only his identity, but also that of men, women, children and literally everything in between, including the most recent addition, myself. We dreamt of having the same drive as the Black Mamba, with hopes that by obtaining his mindset, our lives would have as much purpose as his. In a book Kobe published in 2018 aptly named “The Mamba Mentality,” he gives a perfect example of everything that mindset embodies. 


Former Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant goes up for a shot between the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, and Al Jefferson during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. Bryant was known for his work ethic and determination.  Photo courtesy of Branimir Kvartuc/AP Photo

Former Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant goes up for a shot between the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce, and Al Jefferson during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. Bryant was known for his work ethic and determination. Photo courtesy of Branimir Kvartuc/AP Photo

“If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear,” Kobe said. 

That idea of not being afraid, never quitting and fighting for what you want in life until it is achieved is one very few people can say they’ve successfully lived by, but it is one that everyone should at least attempt. On the court, Kobe was without a doubt a tough competitor. He demonstrated an incredible work ethic and committed every moment of his life to become the best player he could. When you played against him, he pushed you to be better. When you played with him, he pushed you to even further lengths to be better. Never have I seen someone change faster from a carnivore smelling blood as the game winds down, to the best friend and mentor to every other player on the court after the final buzzer. But that was just a taste of what Kobe did. 

After retirement, that mentality translated to other players’ success, trying to take on their biggest challenges without fear and with complete confidence. There was even a time where Kobe would tweet out challenges for current NBA players. For example, he told Giannis Antetokounmpo to win an MVP, and he did. After his passing, several athletes said they would not be the players or people they were today without his guidance and friendship, and although I and many others did not have the pleasure of meeting the Black Mamba, he still found his way into our lives as well, something I am now so grateful for. 

Where I had previously lived in fear (and believe me there are plenty of instances), I can now think of Kobe and at least try to push past those limits holding me back. When I am not sure if I can keep up with the tasking schedule that is college life or post-grad, I can think back to Kobe’s untouchable mindset, and if I can even exhibit one tenth of that, I will come out a much better person because of it.  

It breaks my heart that it took his passing for me to realize it, but Kobe really was one of the most inspirational people to have walked this Earth. And while I will still think of him when I toss countless, crumpled pieces of paper into a trash can, I now know he means so much more to me and to the world than that. So with all that, there is not much left to say besides this: Thank you, Kobe. 


Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at conner.gilson@uconn.edu. He tweets @connergilson03.

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