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My life wouldn’t be the same without Kobe Bryant

I never knew him, but Kobe Bryant impacted me in ways few ever have. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

It was 11:15 a.m. I was at my parents’ house in Las Virgenes, and had just finished my coffee, getting ready to leave to go play basketball at LA Fitness. My mom had just arrived home from her morning walk, and at that exact moment I got a notification on my Ring app on my phone saying “There are reports of a helicopter crash near Las Virgenes Rd & Country Creek Ln.”

I immediately told my mom, “Hey, did you see or hear a helicopter crash? It just happened right by us.” She then told me she hadn’t, but had heard helicopters and ambulances roaming around. I was saddened, and hoping for the best for whoever was in the helicopter.

Fast forward ten minutes later, I get a call from my sister asking me if Kobe Bryant had died.

I yelled. “What?” She replied. “He supposedly died in a helicopter crash near our house, but I don’t know if it’s true.”

Initially, I was in a state of denial. I immediately hung up to turn on the TV and scroll through Twitter, only to find out that what she had told me was the truth. The next part was shock, utter and absolute shock. My body froze, and an abundance of tears came rolling down my face, then a split second later, my immediate impulse was to just drive over there. A part of me still doesn’t know why I made that decision, but it was what my mind told me to do.

I wasn’t able to get super close to the scene of the crash, due to obvious reasons, but I was able to see it from a pretty near distance. There were only about seven people there staring in shock with me. One was a family, all holding hands with the youngest boy wearing a Kobe jersey, and the other seemed to be a couple.

Everybody was silent. The crowd continued to increase as time went on, and about an hour later, there were 100-plus people standing with me, grieving and holding hands with their loved ones, tearing up looking at the crash sight. I didn’t know a single person there, yet somehow, we all felt connected through grief. Conversations started to pick up. Everyone was sharing their favorite stories about how much they loved Kobe, and how he impacted us.

Later that day, there was a vigil set up for Kobe and the other eight passengers at the Juan Bautista de Anza Park. I set down my white Kobe jersey and a framed picture. A young child came with his mom and set down some art he’d made. He colored in the number 24 and wrote “RIP Black Mamba #Legend.”

The memorial for Kobe Bryant at Juan Bautista de Anza Park.
Ali Behpoornia / Silver Screen and Roll

It’s really hard for me to put into words how important Kobe was to my life. During past celebrity deaths, I would often think “How do celebrity deaths impact people so hard when they never even met them?” Yesterday, I learned the answer to that question the hard way.

No, I didn’t personally know Kobe Bryant, and I never even met him, yet he was there with me through every step of my life. Kobe was drafted into the league in 1996. I was born in 1995. My dad showed me a Lakers game when I was super young, and he told me ever since that day, I instantly became a huge Kobe and Laker fan from a young age. As he was growing in the NBA, I was growing in life.

In 2004, I had surgery on my kidney and was out of school for a bit. It was an incredibly low time for me. Everyone in my class wrote me a note, and each note had a laker themed drawing as a cover. Most of them included something with Kobe. I guess they knew an obsessive when they saw one.

When I finally got home after staying at the hospital for a couple days, my dad surprised me with purple and gold colored walls and Kobe posters all over my room. No, Kobe wasn’t physically there for me through my surgery, but he was there for me in other ways. I can’t explain to you how many Kobe videos I watched in that hospital, or when I was able to go back home, or how much those helped me during that time.

When Kobe scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, I was with my mom watching the game. Immediately after I went to the front of our door to practice on my adjustable plastic hoop, imitating the plays he made. Trying to perfect my game. Just like him.

In 2016, It was my first year attending the University of California, Santa Barbara as a transfer student. 2016 was also the year of Kobe’s final season. There were countless times my friends would beg me to go out, but I was adamant in that I wouldn’t miss a single game of his last season. I can’t tell you how proud I felt walking around campus in my Kobe jersey. Yes, I was that guy who would go to every class in a different Lakers jersey.

During his last game against the Jazz, I locked out my roommate (I didn’t really, I asked him if I could have the room to myself for a couple hours, but the message was clear), and watched the game all by myself. I balled my eyes out after the buzzer rang at the end of the fourth quarter. Kobe hugged his teammates. Mamba out.

His passion for the game was something that was not only beautiful to me, but also unbelievably motivating. He had all the skills and was great at what he did, yet he always wanted to find ways to improve. He inspired me to try to do the same. Basketball won’t be the same without Kobe Bryant. Neither will the world/my life.

I hate having to type “was” when talking about Kobe. It’s something I don’t think I’ll get used to for a long, long time. Whenever Magic Johnson pops up on the TV, my dad loves to just rant about how fun he was to watch, and how I’ll never understand. I always would think to myself, man I can’t wait to see old man Kobe on the TV and tell my kids “You guys have no idea, this old man had a player by the name of Matt Barnes fake a pass at his face and he didn’t even flinch,” or, “This guy once hit 63 points in three quarters, and when he was asked if he wanted to play in the fourth, he said no I’ll have other games like this. Then he scored 81.”

Not only were we robbed of Kobe, but we were all robbed of seeing what an absolute beast 13-year-old Gianna Bryant was going to be. She had the same look of determination her dad did when she was playing on the court. She also appeared to have the same hunger to learn how to improve her game every day.

Kobe was the sole reason I ever got into playing basketball. Without Kobe, I wouldn’t have been so obsessed with basketball. Without my obsession with basketball, I wouldn’t have made the friends I have in my life. Without Kobe, I don’t know what my childhood would have been like, or what my life would be like right now. About maybe 70% of the day, I find myself talking about basketball.

Yesterday, I lost my role model, my childhood hero. He may not be here with us anymore, but he’s gonna continue to be a part of my every day. When I watch a Laker game, he’s gonna be on mind. When I’m too tired to work and just want to stop, I’ll remind myself of his mentality and how he would’ve pushed through. Whenever I throw some trash into a trashcan, you better believe I’ll still be shouting “Kobe!” and that I’m going to teach my future kids to do the same thing. Besides my parents, I don’t think there’s any more influential person I’ve ever had in my life.

I wish I had a clean and clever way to end, this, but I don’t, so I’ll just leave you with this: My thoughts and prayers are with Kobe’s family and friends, and everyone affected by the tragic crash. Let’s all help each other in this difficult time.

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