“We’re not girls, we’re athletes,” was engrained in my brain ever since my middle school basketball coach made us say it out loud after practice. Coach Allen would say, “You’re not girls, you’re what?” and we would shout, “Athletes!” and then head to the locker room.
What most people reading the youth page might not know is that I’m a huge basketball fan. Whether it be the NBA, WNBA, NCAAB or NCAAWB – from the professional ranks to the college and high school levels, I have respect for the game and for all those athletes, male and female, who give their all on the court.
My generation, like most of the world it seemed, grew up watching Kobe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant show the world what “Mamba Mentality” means.
On one hand, it meant being an 18-time All Star, winning five NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and winning gold in the Olympics playing for Team USA.
Yet, on the other hand, we saw it also meant being a father of four girls and the coach of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Gigi).
After attending Sunday Mass Jan. 26 with Gigi at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, Calif., the retired NBA All-Star, along with Gigi and seven others, boarded a helicopter to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for Gigi’s basketball practice. All nine were killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas.
I was shocked, but so were so many other athletes in the world and here in Brooklyn and Queens.
“The loss of Kobe was something I couldn’t believe,” said Catherine Finnerty, a senior guard who’s headed to play at St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., next year on a full scholarship. “The love that I have for the game is a response to watching him play, even though I was very young when I first became a fan. His daughter’s loss hit even harder because she was destined to be great.”
Gigi Bryant was called “Mambacita” for a reason. Taking on her father’s nickname, Mamba, Gigi was a rising star whose athletic ability easily mirrored a young Kobe on the court.
“Kobe left behind a culture like no other,” said Priscilla Esteves, a senior on the girls’ varsity basketball team at Msgr. McClancy M.H.S., East Elmhurst. “He was the very spirit of basketball that taught kids everywhere like us how to compete and love the game. Basketball will never be the same again, but his teachings will live on forever.”
Thank you Kobe for your wisdom, witness, stubbornness, ego, jump shot, championships, cockiness, perseverance and Mamba Mentality. In the end, once it’s all said and done, all we have is our faith. Guess I’ll have to wait for a press pass in heaven to get that interview.
How tragic those moments must’ve been, but yet how consoling to know your faith never skipped a beat and now it’s carrying you both into eternal rest.
Farewell, my lifelong hero! My birthday (January 26) will now always be one where I do a fadeaway jump shot and say “Kobe.”