Sports

Kobe Bryant Was an Imperfect Hero, But We Still Loved Him

'I wept a lot yesterday. I’ve been weeping today. I’m far from done crying, for Kobe and Gigi, the Black Mamba and his Mambacita.'
IMAGE FLICKR RedMedia/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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The morning after Kobe Bryant’s death, it’s business as usual in the streets of Muntinlupa City. Jeep barkers barking, sidewalk vendors selling, workers lining up for the bus to get to their offices in different parts of the metropolis. But the morning sky, though bright and blue, remains gloomy to me and my heart, heavy as ever.

Kobe passed away, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash on January 26 in California. In this part of the world, we woke up learning about this shocking tragedy on the morning of January 27. Yet a day later, I still can’t accept it, weeping uncontrollably wherever—in the bathroom, on the bus, at my desk, in the mall while eating lunch.

The news still feels so unreal, and my reaction, inexplicable. I barely even knew the man. The closest I’d ever been to Kobe was about two feet, inside a hotel conference room for a couple of press events. Most people would be itching to ask their questions and talk to the NBA superstar. I was completely satisfied just to be in the same room with him, Kobe at arm’s length.

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Looking back, I wish I had asked him something, anythingwhy he even dared copy Michael Jordan’s every move, for instance, from the post ups, the fadeaways, the fist pumps, to the way he licks his lips in interviews and even the pace of his words.

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Now, all I have are tears and regrets. I wept a lot yesterday. I’ve been weeping today. I’m far from done crying, for Kobe and Gigi, the Black Mamba and his Mambacita. 

Thing is, I hated the Mamba, the phase of Kobe’s career in the mid-2000s, when he was surly, abrasive even to his teammates, jaws clenched and chin out, ball hog Kobe era. As a fan of Kobe’s rival Boston Celtics, I found joy hating him during these days and pouncing on his failures to carry the Lakers back to glory land without Shaquille O’Neal. The best moment of my NBA fandom? Boston winning the championship over Kobe in 2008. The worst? Kobe getting it back in 2010.

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Nothing thrilled me more than a humiliating Lakers loss. Nothing infuriated me more than a Kobe milestone. But my relationship with Kobe wasn’t always like that, far from it.

Growing up as a teenager falling in love with basketball, I only had two posters in my room: the Chicago Bulls trio of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman near my bed; and Kobe, with the afro, wearing Lakers jersey number 8, with his smug smile partially blocked by the ball in his hand. I personally bought that poster in a school supplies store near our school, and proudly pinned it on my bedroom door.

Nothing thrilled me more than a humiliating Lakers loss. Nothing infuriated me more than a Kobe milestone. 

Inside my closet, I kept a newspaper clipping with his quote: “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.”

Truth is, Kobe was a big influence in my life more than I care to publicly admit. As a short kid who was bullied a number of times back then, I have kept Kobe’s words as my creed. I found comfort in his brashness, confidence in his boldness to even try to be like Mike—and almost making it. I believe I would not be where I am without Kobe’s inspiration during those trying formative years.

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But there’s a fine line between confident and arrogant, and in my eyes, the Mamba-era Kobe crossed it by a mile. When his rape case came up, that sealed the switch—my hero turned into a villain, and there was no athlete I loved hating more than Kobe.

Yet the years passed and things changed. People changed, Kobe especially. Hatred transformed into respect and adoration, and ultimately, love. I loved Kobe, again. I may not have professed it then, but my actions spoke louder than words.

In my brief stint in sports media, the first article I wrote was directly related to Kobe. Specifically, the stats to back up Kobe’s claim that the best Kobe-stopper was former Celtic Tony Allen. One of my most memorable sportswriting moments was also talking to Rap Patajo, a.k.a. “Kobesaya” after Kobe retired in 2016. And Celtics fan that I am, I’m proud to own a Kobe Lakers number 8 jersey.

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Still, it doesn’t explain why I wept so much. Many loved ones and influences have passed away in my lifetime, but except for my father, my grandmother, and a few beloved uncles, no death has stung more than Kobe's. At first I was confused, to be this affected by his loss, until I realized that my intense grief has something to do with Gigi, his daughter.

Watching photos and videos of father and daughter together happily enjoying the game evoke feelings that at times lead to a full meltdown. Seeing Kobe, once vilified for an alleged crime against women, turn into a loving dad to all his daughters, hearing him speak about his kids so endearingly breaks my young parent’s heart.

Kobe’s done this before, dealing a heartbreaking loss to my beloved Celtics in 2010. But I thought that would be the last time he could hurt me as much. I was wrong. As someone who longs for a daughter, the death of Kobe and Gigi left me in ruins. Even in death, Kobe drilled the dagger straight through my bleeding heart.

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The morning of Kobe’s death, I was about to scold my seven-year-old son for not eating his breakfast quickly enough because we had to leave early. Then I remembered Kobe and Gigi, and just hugged my boy and told him I love him. It’s best to honor those who passed away in that helicopter crash that way—to tell our loved ones that we love them.

Love you, Ma. Love you, Nay. Love you, my brothers. Love you, my aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, relatives, friends, you know who you are.

Love you, Kobe.

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About The Author
Omar Glenn D. Belo
Omar Belo was formerly the managing editor of sports website Spin.ph. Prior to that, he was the managing editor at Men's Health Philippines.
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