Having spent this week in Los Angeles with my family, you can’t go a city block without seeing a Kobe Bryant jersey or a Kobe Bryant mural adorning a cinderblock wall near you.
But being in Los Angeles now has a different feel than my previous times in La La land, in part because Aug. 23 would have been Kobe’s 43rd birthday.
Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26, 2020 along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, was one of the greatest basketball players the NBA has ever seen.
Just looking at the statistics, Bryant’s once-in-a-generation talent was obvious. He led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles, appeared in 18 All-Star games and scored 33,643 career points—the most points ever scored by a guard in NBA history.
Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) and Karl Malone (36,928) had scored more points than Bryant upon his retirement following the 2015-2016 season. LeBron James (35,367) has since moved into the No. 3 spot on the league’s all-time scorer’s list.
But Kobe Bryant was more than just an iconic basketball player.
He came into the NBA as a cocky, score-first (and second and third and …) teen who quickly proved you don’t have to wait to be great.
In time, Bryant’s message, both in his words and his play, spoke of empowerment and leadership which formed the foundation of what has been a lasting legacy that has shown no signs of slowing down or letting up anytime soon.
When you’re talking about Bryant’s legacy, it should never be confined to the 94 by 50 foot basketball court that became the stage for where some of his greatest works were performed.
On that court, Bryant had a chance to showcase his immense skills on a regular basis. But with that opportunity came responsibility, the kind to not just navigate his own success but leave a legacy for others, young and not-so-young, to follow.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is just 23 years old and has already been named to the NBA’s All-Star team twice. He recently signed his first contract extension, a five-year deal worth $195 million.
Although Tatum plays for the franchise that has been an arch-rival of Bryant’s for decades, Tatum is unapologetic when it comes to the impact Bryant has had on his life. So naturally, Tatum was among the many across the world that expressed their sadness and pain upon hearing the news of Bryant’s death.
“Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol. The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game,” Tatum wrote on his IG account following Bryant’s death. “Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you’ve done for me.“
Tatum was just one of several younger NBA players Bryant took under his wing upon retirement, further cementing Bryant’s legacy and legendary status.
And as he became more of an elder statesman, Bryant also gained a greater appreciation for those who came before him that in many ways, helped pave the way for his success.
There is no mistaking Bryant’s success broke ground for many of today’s young NBA players to have an opportunity to impact the game sooner rather than later.
But the soil that he tendered in the NBA, was toiled before by generations of pioneering basketball players who didn’t have as many opportunities or access to the kind of success that their successors have.
This dynamic isn’t limited to just the NBA, either.
Whether you are an athlete or not, there has never been a better time than now to be Black, talented and creative.