August 26, 2020

Last updated on September 2, 2020

Mamba Week | The Meaning of Kobe

Jamie Delaney

Associate Creative Director @ StockX

There is great sadness in his passing. But there is also gratitude.

There is great sadness in his passing. But there is also gratitude.

This article is part 3 of 6 in the series: Mamba Week

A note from the author: I originally wrote this on January 27, 2020, the night after Kobe’s death. A full 24 hours after the realization of loss had a chance to fully set in. Before I could shake the shuddering questions in my mind of what those last moments must have been like between him and his daughter. 

At the time, I was selfishly stressed. I was, like most of the basketball world, in a state of shock. Filled with this internal fight between feelings of anger and sadness, grappling with the confusion of loss tied to someone whom I didn’t know at all. I had zero personal history with Kobe, yet I cried my eyes out three different times in the first three days after his death. At first, I tried to equate this sadness as some connection with Kobe as a flawed figure who in the later years strove to be better. A man who was committed to his craft and yet still imperfect in an imperfect world. Who owned his shortcomings, made no excuses for them, and tried to overcome them. Someone who displayed the best of what we can all be as a fellow father, and who wore that badge proudly to represent for all of us. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. 

And look, it’s still somewhat true. But, things are different now. And I feel it’s important to call this out before you read the rest of this because back when I wrote this, it was still, somehow, a “normal” time in life. This was pre-pandemic, pre-George Floyd, pre-Breonna Taylor, and pre-Jacob Blake. I could go meet friends in crowded public spaces and escape the looming despair. Looking back, maybe what I was grappling with was the loss of any sense of normalcy. Kobe just crystallized it.  

Because if 2020 has shown anything since Kobe’s death, it’s that “normal” is gone. We are all still grieving it and longing for it. In moments of weakness, some of us find ourselves sifting through this question of how we piece another version of it together (see: patio dinners, socially distant weddings, etc.). The truth is, there is no “new normal,” and there shouldn’t be. Normal was wrong. Normal was broken. And in the true spirit of Kobe, I hope we don’t return to it. I hope we only strive, like he did, to be better every single day. Better than normal, from here on out. Mamba Forever.


Truth be told, I hated Kobe Bryant.

Now you have to understand, as a Detroit Pistons fan, our collective minds have been trained to believe that the Lakers are the antithesis of basketball we believe in: all offense, no defense, focused on the glitz rather than the grit. As Kobe rose to prominence in the early 00s, he swiftly fell in our crosshairs of hate. And yet, a little over a decade later, I was standing on my feet in the Palace of Auburn Hills on December 6, 2015, chanting “KO-BE” for his last game ever against the Pistons.

Regardless of what team you cheered for, Kobe’s game, and perhaps more importantly, his attitude and his impact, grew on you. You ended up loving him for it. At least, I ended up loving him for it. He represented the best and worst of us all at once, somehow. In a way that transcended the game of basketball. That maddening drive for perfection at any and all costs makes for fascinating entertainment in sports. And it’s ultimately that duality of love/hate that makes this week so damn tough.

Perhaps I should first state the obvious: sneakers and sports have always gone hand-in-hand. And whether sport was your gateway to shoes or vice-versa, these two passionate communities end up praising, debating, and, in this week’s case, mourning similar legends. The shocking death of Kobe Bryant left us all stunned and saddened. After he died, I remember walking throughout StockX HQ and feeling the weight of the moment. Almost everyone found some way to pay their respects, whether it was wearing a pair of Kobes, an LA snapback, or even a Lakers jersey. We, like millions around the world, have spent this year mourning not only his on-court achievements and athletic virtuosity, but his boundless work ethic, his gift for storytelling, and his devotion as a father. Kobe’s legacy is certainly complicated, and not everyone will remember him the same way. But no one can deny his impact.

For most players, being dubbed “the next MJ” would be a crowning achievement, but Kobe saw it differently, famously saying “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.” A goal he certainly accomplished, building a basketball resume that is nearly peerless. His identity fused with that of his Laker team, such that it is now impossible to imagine one without the other. Kobe was hard work, determination, and winning by any means necessary. He was and will always be Los Angeles.

When his playing days were over, Kobe set out to prove that his Mamba Mentality was more than just a sports slogan. He was an investor, philanthropist, and celebrated storyteller, even winning an Academy Award for his animated film, Dear Basketball. On television and social media, he endeavored to lift up and celebrate female athletes every chance he could, including his own late daughter, Gianna Bryant, a budding basketball sensation in her own right.

That relationship with his daughter Gianna is what still makes this the hardest to comprehend. Just before they died, we were all smiling over their supportive relationship on Twitter, seeing him break down the game with that familiar intensity. Only this time we saw a softness that us parents know only our kids can bring out of us. Mourning Kobe as a lifelong basketball fan is one thing. But as a fellow father, as someone I saw striving to always be better for his family, that’s what destroyed me.

While Kobe may be gone, the lessons he taught us will forever remain in our memories. From casually shooting a piece of paper into the trash to staying late and putting in extra work after games, Mamba Mentality is everywhere, and forever. A legacy that will have a far greater impact than any of his trophies.

There is great sadness in his passing. But there is also gratitude.

Truth be told, I loved Kobe Bryant.