By Cam Smith ’21
Sports Assistant Editor
I was eleven years old as I sat on the couch, eyes glued to the TV on June 16, 2010. The Los Angeles Lakers were in the midst of a dramatic Game Seven against my beloved Boston Celtics, a game that was the perfect finale to a perfect series. Fresh off a victory over the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals the previous year, Kobe Bryant was looking for his fifth championship overall. He was also firmly set on crushing my dreams.
I still remember the shot that ended it. No, it was not the game-winner, in fact there were still five minutes left on the clock, but for all intents and purposes the game was over.
Bryant took the ball at the top of the key, guarded by the Celtics’ Ray Allen. A quick jab to the left sent Allen reeling, allowing for Bryant to quickly take one dribble to the right. Somehow, almost immediately, the “Black Mamba,” true to his namesake, was in the air hoisting up his patented fade-away jumper.
The ball found nothing but net. As the Staples Center went berserk, I stormed off to my room, frustrated and angry because Bryant had the lead in the fourth quarter of a Game Seven, and there was no way he was going to give it up.
This particular moment perfectly encapsulates what everyone referred to as the “Mamba Mentality:” a mentality of hard-work, grit, and a smooth and unbreakable confidence. These traits, in addition to his basketball prowess, elevated his status to that of a living legend, one celebrated with a retirement tour unlike any other during his final season.
Truly, Bryant just seemed invincible. He had transcended the bounds between sports and pop culture. More than a basketball player, he was a cultural icon that showed that the NBA could thrive post-Michael Jordan.
That is why his death on Sunday in a helicopter crash, along with nine others, including his 13-year-old daughter and fellow basketball savant Gianna Bryant, is so difficult to come to terms with. Bryant was supposed to be around for decades to come, gracing playoff games and award shows much like the legendary Bill Russell does.
Instead, the world got a stark reminder of the fragility of life, an idea made all the more poignant by the passing of fellow passenger and former Cape Cod Baseball League coach John Altobelli. A man who, much like Bryant, devoted his life to the love of the game. Altobelli tragically perished alongside his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa.
In lieu of everything, it bears mentioning that Bryant did not lead a life without controversy. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003, although the charges were dropped after his accuser refused to testify. On the court, he often got into spats with his teammates due to his lofty standards, most notably with fellow All-Star Shaquille O’Neal.
Nevertheless, he was the reason so many kids fell in love with the game. If the last generation wanted to be like Mike, then this generation wanted to be like Kobe: a 5-time NBA champion, 18-time NBA All-Star, 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and 1-time Academy Award winner.
Bryant was far from perfect, but his commitment to the sport of basketball was unparalleled. So too was his commitment to his children. Indeed, the ill-fated helicopter was en route to Gianna’s travel basketball game, where Bryant was set to coach and Gianna was set to play. Their intended destination makes the untimely passings all the more devastating.
Ten years ago, in Game Seven of the NBA Finals, Kobe broke my heart. On Sunday, my heart broke again: for the Bryant family and for all the lives lost in the tragic accident.