By Tom Castro
Over the course of his illustrious 20-year career for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant
was a role model and motivator for countless people worldwide due to his unmatched
competitiveness and work ethic.
When the news broke that both he and his 13-year old daughter Gianna had passed away in a helicopter crash, it simply did not feel real. Bryant was only 41 years old and had just retired from the game of basketball in 2016. He had just begun to put himself back in the public eye following his retirement, attending NBA games with his daughter, and coaching her AAU basketball team.
Despite his early passing, Bryant, known to fans as “Black Mamba,” influenced an entire generation of basketball players and coaches, including those at the University at Albany. For some people, like sophomore forward Malachi de Sousa, watching Bryant play changed their perspective of the sport forever.
“Kobe had a huge impact on my life. The reason I started playing basketball is actually because of Kobe. When I was a little kid, me and my dad used to watch him and Paul Pierce matchup in the NBA Finals, and it was a true inspiration. I didn’t really like basketball too much or love it too much to play yet, but, after watching those Finals, I just loved it after that,” Malachi said about watching Bryant growing up.
Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, it was always exciting to watch Kobe take the floor on any given night, as he was always adding to his arsenal on offense and never stirred away from his iconic and unmatched “Mamba Mentality” as a competitor.
UAlbany senior guard Ahmad Clark admits he was more of a Lebron-fan growing up, but, it is hard not to admire Kobe’s greatness and not be inspired by him.
“Just watching him compete and just give everything he had on the court, made me a fan of him. He is to me one of the best players of all time and it's not even just because of basketball, he was a great person and a great human being,” Clark said. “I never got a chance to meet him but, one of my best friends [Markell] met him, and he's just a great motivator and a real positive guy you know and he just has that mentality, called Mamba Mentality, that just makes you want to keep working hard and stay determined in whatever you’re doing in life.”
Kobe’s ability to fight adversity and play his best basketball in the biggest games is inspiring to any young athlete, and for any young player looking to grow their game, he is a great pro to study. UAlbany guard Cam Healy, who was just recently named American East Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, has studied aspects of Kobe’s game from a young age and applied it to his own game.
“I think he had a massive impact in terms of on the court. I’ve studied a lot of his film just growing up and I think it kind of translated into my game. The way he scores, the way he does his fadeaways, is something I try to take from his game. His footwork is something I try to model my footwork after and the way he pivots in the paint, you can learn a lot from that, and I’ve tried to,” explained Healy who is averaging 16.2 PPG this season for the Great Danes.
In addition to his tremendous talent on the court, Kobe Bryant will be remembered also for the kind of person he was outside of the game of basketball.
Bryant became an author and publisher of children’s books, including a New York Times bestseller, and also started the Mamba Basketball Academy. He was very committed to helping kids learn, and also to the growth of youth sports and youth basketball.
“It’s crazy, obviously, that he died but, what's more crazy is to see the impact that he’s had, and often you don’t find out until they pass away but, you can tell a lot of people have been motivated by Kobe Bryant and I think he’s going to change a lot of people’s lives, sadly even through his passing,” said Healy.
Not only in the United States but across the globe people have been reacting to his passing with various types of tributes and by paying homage to his life. There have been many murals painted worldwide to honor both Kobe and Gigi, and many teams and players have already paid their respects by incorporating his jersey numbers, 24 and 8, into various in-game tributes.
Although this is a tragedy that will not be soon forgotten, it seems like the global basketball family has only grown stronger and closer through his passing.
UAlbany head coach Will Brown had a specific message and mindset for his team moving forward with their season, and with their lives in the wake of Kobe’s passing.
“One of my biggest messages when I addressed this with the team was, you have to live for today because tomorrow is not guaranteed and talk to your loved ones every single day,” Brown noted. “I wasn’t trying to scare my guys but, if you have an issue with somebody, squash it, make amends, life is too short. Don’t put something off today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed.”
The entire program feels the effects of Kobe Bryant’s passing but, if they can continue to work hard as a unit and remember what the “Mamba Mentality” is all about, the Great Danes will have an opportunity to make a run at an American East Championship in March.