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An Honorable Legend: How the Enigmatic Kobe Bryant Redefined “Athlete”

It is not only the sport of basketball, but it is also the entire world that mourns the death of the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Bryant, an icon of the NBA and the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, revolutionized the sport of basketball. After facing allegations of rape in 2003, the case was dropped in September of 2004. The incident involved a 19-year-old worker at Bryant’s hotel in Colorado and forever scarred his legacy. Following his unexpected death, many are slow to honor the icon due to his troubled past. Just to be clear, I am in no way pardoning the inexcusable allegations of rape. That being said, I think there is so much more to tell in the story of Kobe Bryant than just his infamous crime. Though we can all agree that it was morally unjust and horrific of Bryant to be involved in such a situation, it is only right to recognize the mysterious character as complex. 

By definition, “complex” refers to “having many parts or aspects that are usually interrelated” (Merriam-Webster). Bryant’s accomplishments and efforts cannot be ignored due to one mistake. Critics fail to acknowledge the humanitarian efforts he made, especially in years leading up to his death. The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, launched in 2007, “is dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally” (Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation). Since 2011, the successful foundation has partnered with other renowned groups including My Friend’s Place, Step Up on Second and countless other organizations to fight homelessness throughout the United States, especially in Kobe’s kingdom of Los Angeles. Bryant was also known for being a frequent volunteer and supporter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that strives to “create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses” (Wish.org). Kobe Bryant changed the concept of an athlete from being someone who simply plays sports to a character with the platform to encourage change.

Not only were his humanitarian efforts incredible, but Bryant’s legacy on the basketball court will live on forever. Coming straight out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia, Kobe Bryant entered the NBA in 1996 as an 18-year-old prospect. Throughout his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made an appearance in 15 All-Star Games, winning a Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award in 2008. Alongside a force in Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant led the Lakers to five championships. He even earned two gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics while representing the United States. Bryant’s famed “Mamba Mentality” reflects his inspirational character on the court in having a mindset focused on constant growth and hard work in the name of a competitive spirit.

In recent years, Kobe completely transcended his identity. In 2017, he worked to screen write the short film Dear Basketball. The film is an animated telling of Bryant’s poem expressing his love for a game that inspires so many. It was highly admired and won both an Academy Award and a Sports Emmy Award in 2018. Aside from his versatile talents, Bryant prided himself on being a family-centric personality. As a father of four daughters, he made sure to invest a lot of time, care, and love into his children. He spent his final years as a very involved parent who sought to lead his daughters to their own individual successes. He even coached his daughter Gianna’s middle school basketball team. Bryant proved himself to be a much different character near the end of his life compared to who he was as a kid at the beginning. 

Kobe Bryant’s legacy has proved to be worthy of respect. Countless acclaimed celebrities and figures have spoken out concerning his death. His eulogies credit Bryant with having an unparalleled drive to succeed and grow. Following his unexpected death, millions of athletes, fans, and figures around the globe have united and mourned together, a mark of a true doyen. Instead of instantly belittling him, we must scrutinize the countless efforts that defined Kobe Bryant as not only an athlete but as a meritorious social figure and enigmatic character that will continue to inspire forever.

 

By Sanjay Hill

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