I am extremely lucky to be able to write this article. Not everyone gets to meet their heroes, fewer get what they expect from meeting them and even fewer get to meet them just before they tragically pass away. With the NBA season restarting, I want to thank the man this season is dedicated to by sharing my own experience with a basketball player that used the game to touch the lives of millions. Meeting Mr. Bryant is something I will never forget.
The death of Kobe Bean Bryant was more than simply the death of another celebrity. He was someone that I looked up to because his work ethic, demeanor and poise were of legend, a legend I got to interact with firsthand. His character was bigger than basketball. He was a father, a mentor to many and even an Oscar-winning filmmaker. His accomplishments are many and noteworthy but the way he reached people personally was what made his legacy immortal.
Growing up in the Boston area, everyone around me was a Celtics fan. I grew up during the reboot of the big Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the late 2000s, but while I was supposed to be rooting for the Celtics, I was always drawn to Kobe. It wasn’t because his marquee name was decorated in Hollywood lights. It wasn’t because he was the marquee, and it wasn’t even because being a Lakers fan would get me attention at school. It was because he seemed to be in a realm of his own amidst all the fanfare of the game. His laser focus, combined with his killer will to win at all costs, was awe-inspiring. I had ever seen anybody walk with that type of swagger, assert that level of dominance and instill fear in the opposition like he did. I had heard stories of Jordan intimidating opponents with his presence alone, but I witnessed Kobe do it live and, even from my television screen, I knew he was in a class by himself. He was a powerful polarizing figure and whether you loved him or hated him, he commanded the respect of everyone.
While I marveled at his superhuman feats on the courts, it was his off-the-court wisdom that really struck a chord with me. Since I was in high school, I have religiously watched Kobe’s speeches and motivation nuggets to get through everyday struggles. They helped me deal with stress and adversity of all kinds.
This made meeting him at UConn ¾ unexpectedly I might add ¾ a dream come true. I ran into him as he casually perused through the shelves of the UConn bookstore. Clearly, money was no object to him.
Like a starstruck little kid, I approached him, all the while hoping I didn’t visibly look like I was shaking. I said, “It really is an honor to see and meet you.”
He replied casually saying, “It’s nice to meet you kid. You working and staying out of trouble?”
At this point, I was internally screaming because the greatest Laker ever had just initiated a conversation with me. I was so caught up in the moment that I even forgot to ask for an
autograph or picture. I said, “Yeah. School’s a lot of work but I love college. I’ve found some amazing people and things I’m passionate about.”
“What’s that your passionate,” Kobe said, looking genuinely interested which I found surprising, yet heartwarming.
I said that “I love to sing and write. I’m by no means the best at either but it’s a lot of fun and I want to get better every day”
Kobe told me that if I was willing to put in the hours when other people weren’t, it would make all the difference. This guy practices what he preaches, and I think nobody can argue with his results. Then he dapped me up and I just felt motivated. This is not an exaggeration. Kobe just had an aura about him that was just positive energy. I spoke to him for roughly ten minutes, but I felt like I could talk to him for hours, just about life. He was busy and had to leave soon after, but I will cherish those moments I got to speak to him. He really was the Mamba on and off the court. I can’t think of anyone better to be on the cover of NBA 2K21, and I hope everyone will go back and watch his motivational videos because his perspective on life itself is truly eye-opening. He never flinched, never shied away from the bright lights and embodied all the attributes of a winner.
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.