On Sunday, Jan. 26 Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine passengers who passed away in a helicopter crash on a Calabasas hillside.
While Kobe Bryant may be gone, his international legacy will live forever as a model for preparation, competitiveness and work ethic. These traits influenced countless members of the basketball community and beyond, including members of Cal Poly’s Men’s Basketball program.
Redshirt junior forward Nolan Taylor said Bryant is one of his idols because of the way he approached the game of basketball.
“Kobe used adversity as his way to overcome everything in life,” Taylor said. “He’s blessed me with the opportunity to think a different way that no hooper to come before him or even now has ever thought.”
Bryant became one of the winningest basketball players the sport has ever seen during a 20-year career that included five NBA Championships, two NBA Championship MVP awards, four All-Star Game MVP awards and two Olympic gold medals. Bryant’s approach of never being satisfied with his current state is what set him apart from every player who came before.
Freshman guard Colby Rogers reiterated Taylor’s sentiment on Bryant’s influence through his over-the-top work ethic.
“I mean, a lot of players put in hard work, but his was just on a different level,” Rogers said. “Like you have hard work, and then you have Kobe work.”
After Bryant’s passing, athletes from around the world expressed what the star player meant to them. Several tributes have poured in, including athletes wearing Bryant jerseys before games and speaking about how he impacted their lives. Some have taken their tribute to another level of respect, such as Lebron James and Anthony Davis, who both got tattoos to immortalize their friend.
Sophomore guard Junior Ballard wears Bryant’s No. 24 for Cal Poly as a nod to his favorite player. Ballard said he has worn the number since he was in elementary school.
“Kobe meant a lot to me,” Ballard said. “I wear 24 for a reason.”
In his first game following Bryant’s death, Ballard wrote the phrase, “R.I.P. Kobe Bean. I’m meant to do this,” on his basketball shoes. Ballard went on to lead the Mustangs with a career-high 32 points in a dramatic 101-100 overtime win against Cal State Fullerton. Ballard later commented “8+24” on social media in commemoration of Bryant’s two numbers.
Like Ballard, graduate guard Malek Harwell’s fandom of Bryant began at a young age.
“I had a Lakers Kobe Bryant jersey, purple No. 8,” Harwell said. “When I was little, that was my favorite thing. I think I wore that thing two, three, four days out of the week. My parents got mad at me, forced me to take it off and wash it sometimes.”
Assistant coach Justin Downer said Bryant’s mentality set a new standard. As a member of Vanguard’s coaching staff last season, Downer met and spoke to Bryant as a result of Gianna’s basketball team practicing inside Vanguard’s gym.
“Anything short of what Kobe did, or his mentality, right, the ‘mamba mentality’ — it’s just an excuse.” Downer said. “I think for the culture and especially a lot of the young players, both on our team and in the NBA now, he was the standard for them. He was the ‘why’ for them. And I think that’s why it’s hit us as a community so hard.”
Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, was also lost in the tragedy. Bryant’s apparent love of being a father and Gianna’s immense potential as a rising star made the loss that much greater.
“Someone like me that has two daughters, and that’s close with my daughters, it hit home with me,” head coach John Smith said. “And I feel sorry for Kobe that he didn’t get a chance to see his daughters get to the level that I’ve seen my daughters get to, because [Gianna] was definitely going to be the difference in the [Women’s National Basketball Association].”
While he was never the biggest, fastest, or strongest player, nobody was willing to sacrifice more to win than Bryant, and that is what made it so easy to be a fan. Millions of athletes, coaches and fans alike lost an inspiration, an influence and a role model. Despite Bryant’s tragic passing, those closest to him can find comfort knowing he inspired an entire generation of future superstars.
“The older generation, they had Michael Jordan. This new generation, they have Curry, Lebron,” redshirt junior guard Keith Smith said. “When I was born, we had Kobe Bryant.”