“Off the Rim” is a column by Sarah Ko about basketball.
First and foremost, I extend my deepest condolences to the Bryant family, the Altobelli family, the Chester family, the Mauser family and the Zobayan family on this tragic day. You will all be in my prayers with great love.
I was not built to be an athlete — born with physical disabilities coupled with autoimmune diseases, it was clear I was to avoid sports at all costs from the get-go. Yet, I ignored my ailments and grew up playing basketball, which later prompted me to branch further into athletics and figure skate competitively.
And it was all because of Kobe.
When I was born, Kobe was already considered one of the greats. Since entering the NBA straight from high school in 1996, Bryant made 18 All-Star appearances, won five NBA championships and, more importantly, built the Lakers’ identity.
His career accomplishments were astronomical, even unachievable for most NBA players. However, it’s clear that his greatest impact was off the court. Despite only being closely known by few, his loss feels incredibly personal to all lovers of basketball and beyond.
As kids, tossing wads of paper in the trash gave us the chance to make a fadeaway and verbosely yell “Kobe!” Not Jordan, Magic or Lebron, but Kobe. We mimicked his actions and assumed his characteristics because we idolized him.
When it comes to the Black Mamba, your background, gender, age and whatever affixed societal label becomes insignificant. It doesn’t matter if you are a Kobe fan or hater — everyone respected his skill and work ethic. In essence, we all share one common thread: admiration for his success achieved by his mentality to rise above all.
Some of my first memories include him leading the Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal to the 2000-02 three-peat. I was blessed to watch him grace the hardwood floors with anomalous aggressive beauty surrounded by my friends and family. He brought a disgruntled L.A. community together, celebrated family, coached aspiring competitors, championed female athletes and shared his “Mamba Mentality” with the world.
He enticed me to buy his shoes, lace up and fight on the court. He gave me the courage to try something new — figure skating — and work through my disabilities. When I faced career-ending injuries, watching him practice through a broken right arm reignited me to come back and retire my skating career on a high note.
He inspired me to set the pain, intersectionality and prejudices aside. Focus on the game and fixate on your passion. Let the fire inside of you burn stronger than anyone around you.
Because of him, I not only saw what I wanted to be, but also who I could be. Unbeknownst to him, he was a part of my life that shaped my attitude, drive and tenacity. He changed the world in ways he never anticipated he would.
Though, I must address the elephant in the room. Among the outbursts of sadness, pain and grief, there were sprinkles of hate, ridicule and criticism for his past sexual assault allegation in 2003. While this prompts discussion, I beg the public to give time to those who loved him and the other victims to grieve.
On a more personal note, one of the families on board went to my school. I walked the same halls, saw their faces and watched their basketball games. The pilot was a friend of a friend. Kobe’s family went to my rival school, and I witnessed him support his daughters when they played against us.
So, to me, this doesn’t just feel personal. It is personal.
Kobe accomplished what he set out to do: “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.”
Writing this was painful because it made it real.
A step-back fadeaway will never be the same.
Throwing trash away will never be the same.
The whole world will never be the same.
Thank you for showing us how to make the impossible possible.
Thank you for blessing us with your mentality.
Thank you for sharing your time, kindness and love with our community.
Thank you for including us in your story.
It was draft day in Heaven, and God gained a legend and legends that could have been.
This is the last edition of “Off the Rim”.