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Mamba mentality lives on

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-26 09:24
A mural of late NBA great Kobe Bryant is pictured during the public memorial for him, his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others killed in a helicopter crash, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, US, Feb 24, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

It's been a month since the devastating news of Kobe Bryant's sudden death hit the basketball world, yet it's still so hard to process that one of my favorite players of all time, who I met just five months ago, is no longer around.

Knowing how huge Kobe was in China, it's no surprise that many fans stayed up as early as 2 am (Beijing time) on Tuesday morning to watch the public memorial for him and his daughter-Gianna Bryant live from Los Angeles.

Still, the fact that the whole world was really bidding farewell to the "Black Mamba "caught me off guard.

During the two-hour "celebration of life", there were times when I was moved to laughter as his wife Vanessa and some of the biggest names in basketball recalled touching yet funny stories about Kobe. But those recollections also broke my heart. Those who loved, knew or idolized Kobe all have their own moments to remember about him, and I am no exception.

It was Sept 12, 2019 when I had the privilege to sit with Kobe for an one-on-one interview in Beijing during his ambassadorial trip to promote the FIBA World Cup, which was held in China. It was my third time interviewing him face-to-face and without question the most memorable one.

Just the third year into his retirement from basketball, Kobe's vision to keep inspiring the younger generation off the court by telling sports-themed stories-in the form of either fantasy novels or animated cartoons-was so fascinating that I barely asked any of my set questions during the 15-minute interview.

Instead, I was intrigued by his new ideas and projects following his 2018 Oscar-winning animated short Dear Basketball, which had convinced me that the 18-time NBA All Star could still wow the world even without a ball in his hands.

Despite obvious jet lag just hours after stepping off a long flight, Kobe's eyes sparkled and his face lit up when he talked about instilling all the life lessons sports had taught him into the books, films and podcasts that his studio were working on.

However, his tragic death has seen those plans crash into pieces, bringing an abrupt end to a life that so many people had looked up to, while leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of fans all over the world.

Even the most die-hard hoops fans would have conceded that, just like the NBA greats of the 80s and 90s, Kobe's influence would fade as the game evolves.

However, the outpouring of grief over the past month around the world-from Italy, where he spent part of his childhood, to China, where he was a regular visitor-strongly suggests his legacy will be carried on.

And for me, the message he delivered throughout his 20-year NBA career, during which he won five championships all with the Los Angeles Lakers, is to perform to the best of your ability in whatever you are passionate about, every single day.

That's how you live your life to the fullest, just as Kobe articulated during a ceremony to retire his No 8 and No 24 Lakers jerseys at the Staples Center in LA on Dec 18,2017: "Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don't feel like working. You're too tired. You don't want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream."

As long as this message keeps spreading, the Mamba is never out.

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