To young basketball fans who came of age in Southern California in the mid-1990s, Kobe Bryant was not a basketball player, but a young god. Our prince. We watched him grow up with the Los Angeles Lakers, as sure of his potential as we were of our own. When he won, we won.
Now he’s gone, and with him, our childhoods.
Dead at 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., along with eight others, including his precious 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
He died on the way to a girls basketball tournament at his namesake Mamba Academy, in my hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif., roughly an hour’s drive from the Great Western Forum, Bryant’s first professional home. The tragedy has taken on added meaning for those I know best. After the news broke, I almost immediately received texts as well as anguished phone calls. Our hero, gone, and so close to our home.
Part of his future was in Thousand Oaks, where the next generation of Kobe acolytes were to be infused with the Mamba Mentality. He also was involved in creative endeavors, technology businesses and a venture capital partnership.
An hour after Bryant’s death, I commiserated with my longtime friend Justin Taylor, Nike’s former director of digital marketing. He worked closely with Bryant toward the end of his professional basketball career and saw the beginnings of a burgeoning empire.
“I remember asking him, ‘It’s your last year, what do you want to accomplish?’ The Lakers were not winning the title that year, it’s his last year, what were his goals,” Taylor said. “He was not a guy to rest on his laurels. He looked at me and said, “Every single morning, I wake up and I work to get better at every single thing in my life. Whether it be making eggs or basketball. And I’ll do that every single day, for the rest of my life.’ ”