For many, 2020 started off with hope, excitement, and wonder of what the new decade will bring. All destroyed on Jan. 26 when a fatal helicopter crash in the hills of Calabasas, Calif. claimed the lives of nine individuals, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant, while they were on their way to a youth basketball tournament. The victims were Pilot Ara Zobayan; Assistant youth basketball coach Christina Mauser; Whittier College alumna ‘97 Sarah Chester and her daughter, a young basketball player participating in the tournament Payton Chester; John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli. John Altobelli was a baseball coach at Orange Coast College, and he was traveling with wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, who was also a player participating in the tournament.

The last two victims held a prominent place in the heart of L.A. culture and all those who lived in the City Bryant, and his second child Gianna. The five-time National Basketball Association Champion, 18-time All-Star, and 2008 MVP was on his way to coach his daughter’s team in a tournament which they were hosting.

It was unbelievable as reports first came in from TMZ with vague details; even local authorities did not know themselves yet. It was first reported that the victims were Kobe and the pilot, then five unidentified patalities. Then there were claims  including former Laker Rick Fox in the crash, which were later disproved. The details involving the Bryant family members were also unclear, as it was first reported that none of Bryant’s family was with him, but then confirmed that daughter, Gianna, was.

TMZ reported the news before authorities were able to contact the families affected, showing the unprofessionalism and indecency of TMZ. In this moment families had to learn about this event along with the rest of the country. As the news came in, the city of L.A., the country, and the world had heavy hearts. A man who basketball fans loved, or loved to hate, has left this world behind.

Bryant’s legacy could easily be described in one word – determination. He had a determination to not just be the best player on the court, but be better than he was the day before; Bryant called this “Mamba Mentality” throughout his career. Bryant was not someone to take an off day; he never showed up on time for practice. Instead, he came in hours early to perfect his craft. He was someone who would push his teammates to the max, making sure no one slacked off at any time of the season, whether it was practice or gameday. Bryant was not someone you would like to see if you were working at only 50 percent ability. Stories and videos of him in practice calling out his teammates, calling them soft and other things I do not need to repeat, showed his determination and love for the game.

In Philadelphia, 1991, Bryant led his Lower Merion High School basketball team to a state championship his senior year, averaging 30.8 points. Bryant would then be the first guard to be drafted into the NBA from high school at age 17. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded to the L.A. Lakers, starting an era that would last 20 years. Bryant’s debut season was one that discouraged most players, as his final game ended with a first round playoff elimination, where Bryant four airballs to end it. However, this only fueled him more, making it the turning point of his career as he reinvented himself as one of the best players the NBA has seen.

Bryant would then make his career Hall of Fame-worthy. leading the Lakers along with Shaquille O’Neal to the fifth three-peat in NBA history, winning it in 2000 – 2. In 2009 and 2010, Bryant would win his fourth and fifth championship. He would also, seen as the greatest scorer in NBA history, as he held 33,643 points. One of his greatest achievements to come was his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, the second highest-scoring game in NBA history and was probably the most impressive performance in modern NBA. Bryant would only win one MVP award in his career; most would argue that Bryant was cheated out of a couple of MVP wins, mostly during the 2005 – 06 season.

Bryant’s influence on people is part of what made him so special. L.A loved him and treated him like the golden child of the city, while the other cities who held an NBA team loved to hate him. Feelings aside, fans could not wait to watch him play. Whether it was because he might go off for 50, bring his team back from behind to win, or shoot an impossible shot, making the whole arena silent, there was always a reason to watch. Younger players looked up to him as a big brother; Bryant would be seen training them, showing them his tricks of the game. Brooklyn Net Guard Kyrie Irving, was probably the closest to him as they would text each other on a regular basis and was greatly affected by Bryant’s tragic death.

The NBA player most affected by this loss is Laker Forward LeBron James. He was, emotionally torn when he heard the news almost hours later after traveling from Philadelphia back to Los Angeles. James took to social media, saying “It’s my responsibility to put this [s–t] on my back and keep going!!… I got US!!” James later spoke on Jan. 31, the first Laker home game after the accident, and delivered a speech saying, “So, in the words of Kobe Bryant, Mamba out. But, in the words of us, not forgotten. Live on, brother.”

There are arguments about which Bryant was better — the Number 8 or the Number 24 Mamba. Bryant has tried to say that both were at the same level, and you can never compare the two, but did say that 8 can do what 24 could never do, — grow hair.

Though what I think the best Bryant was not the one on the court, but the one off it. The one after basketball who was able to expand himself to a writer, producer, and, most importantly, a father, something that anyone could see he enjoyed. He trained constantly with his daughter Gianna and got her to where she wanted to be as a player — the man who enjoyed being a “Girl Dad.”

Growing up as a Kobe Bryant fan, the news hit me hard. I checked my phone to see something I was not prepared to, second read the three words I wish I never saw ever: “Kobe Bryant Dead.” I hoped and prayed that it was not real, that he would go on social media and clear everything up, but that never happened. I did something I have not done in over five years. I cried, and I probably did for following week or so.

All the memories came in of why I loved him. One of my greatest memories of him wasn’t the 81-point game, the two free throws after his achilles injury, or even the 2010 final where  the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics. No, what started it all for me was the last dance between his idol Micheal Jordan in 2003, where I saw my idol Kobe Bean Bryant tear up the court, putting 55 points past Jordan and his band of misfits, the Washington Wizards. I was in my living room watching it all in my Bryant number 8 jersey and tried to copy every move Bryant did, not successfully doing any single one of them right, but finding my first love — basketball.

It is never easy to say, nor ever wanted to be said, but it is the time. Kobe, with a heavy heart and a mind, I would like to thank you for all of the memories and the inspiration which you gave us during the good and bad times. Thank you for the family you gave us, for the family we all became because of you, and for people we are because of you. Thank you for inspiring a kid from South Gate to be the greatest person he can be at all times, and I will always be that kid who watched your games and tried to copy you. So, dear Kobe, goodbye, love you forever, and may you and Gianna rest peacefully in paradise. “Mamba Out.”

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