Growing Up In Britain, Here’s How American Basketball Legend Kobe Bryant Impacted Me
I imagine this was a worldwide response — one that shook L.A. to it’s core, and sent ripples of mourning and grief across the world.
January 29, 2020 at 7:15 pm
Over the weekend, I was mid podcast recording when I found out the news about Kobe Bryant. My eyes instantly filled with tears and I felt the unbearable nausea I always get when somebody unexpectedly passes away. I panicked, wanting to find out every detail about this passing and what that would mean for his family. I felt that instant need to explore what happened. Was it true? Why did it happen? I barely remember finishing the episode and in that moment, I was consumed with the loss of somebody I didn't even personally know.
Not Kobe. Not Kobe Bryant.
I imagine this was a worldwide response — one that shook L.A. to it’s core, and sent ripples of mourning and grief across the world. With every update of my timeline, it became more and more clear this was a universal grief that brought us all together; from London to New York to Johannesburg, we all felt like we lost something that we never really knew life without.
I remember being really young and my mother treating us to new VHS movies, opening us up to new worlds with each film we watched. One particular memorable favourite was Space Jam. At that time in my life, there was no real access to Black greatness apart from the movies we watched and the music we listened to. The internet was still developing, and watching movies was the easiest and most cost-effective form of entertainment.
At that time in my life, I felt like everybody around me was simply surviving. Survival was my norm; it was the benchmark. I cannot recall knowing a single Black person who was thriving, and films like Space Jam introduced me to what I considered to be a “different” life; it taught me how to dream. Although Kobe Bryant was not featured in it (he was a new NBA draft merely months before the motion picture’s release in 1996), movies like Space Jam introduced me to American basketball culture and the copious amounts of greatness that remained in a place that felt so far away, but would later in life feel like my second home.
Kobe’s passing represents so much. Not only did Kobe help mould such amazing beliefs in the most crucial years of my life, his passing reopened up wounds I didn’t even realise I had closed up. Wounds that could only be opened by somebody I know lived his life to inspire and uplift little girls and boys that looked just like me.
A lot of my identity was built on what I saw in the swelling success a lot of Black celebrities allowed us to witness. Much like many other Black girls and boys, they helped reverse the scarcity mentality that I inherited. I remember being really young and having what was probably the early stages of imposter syndrome. I always equated blackness with a general sense of lack. Kobe Bryant, like many others, played an instrumental role in changing this belief — he became a blueprint of what dedication and passion could do for your life. I finally had dreams, big dreams, and Kobe helped cement this pivotal mindset.
Minutes after his passing, I scrolled through my Instagram timeline and noticed that not a single one of my non-Black friends had posted Kobe, though almost every single one of my Black followers had posted him, declaring their absolute heartbreak. It made me realise that celebrity culture is processed so differently in the Black community. To us, though they were celebrities, they were often our main source and only choice of inspiration. Though I loved and honoured my parents, their immigration-tainted happily ever after was not one I ever looked at as a way I'd like to live. Very quickly I realised that I had to look elsewhere for the inspiration my nine-year-old self was in search for.
Upon reflection, I sometimes feel as though my parents would sit and watch those VHS films with us to remind themselves of why they had done what they'd done. I felt that they, too, would watch the movies to get a snippet of what life could be like one day when living from a state of abundance and not scarcity.
Kobe Bryant not only went on to have a phenomenal career with the L.A. Lakers, he became a household hero. Shouting "Kobe" just before throwing something in the trash can became a staple part of our culture, one of those things that you've done for so long nobody can remember the first time they did it. His influence seeped into a lot of people’s teenage years. Having a Kobe Bryant jersey almost felt like a trophy. Walking around in the distinguishable royal hues of purple and gold was every kid’s dream.
Just weeks before his passing, a meme of him and his beloved daughter Gianna went viral. In the meme, Kobe appears to be explaining something to Gianna to which she quickly makes clear she understands. He looks impressed, she looks giddy to have impressed her father. The moment is beautiful and chillingly feels like it was preparing us, the world, to bid these two farewell. It going viral was our last reminder that Kobe had Gigi and Gigi had Kobe, a reassurance that only lightly soothes the pain.
What moves me most is that even in the lead up to his death, his cultural significance and relevance was prevalent. Although he was years into his retirement, we never forgot him. How could we ever forget him?
In the U.K., the BBC news aired a tribute to him, but mistakenly used shots of Lebron James. Though I believe the sheer negligence of this journalism has deeper roots, I want to make this all about Kobe, and that is where I end this tribute.
Kobe Bryant is not somebody we can mistake for anybody else. It is difficult to forget a person who taught you greatness was possible. It is an inspiration that is subtly embedded into your identity and you don’t fully appreciate until you’re faced with a tragic Sunday, like the one we just experienced. Kobe Bryant is the reason so many young Black women and men have a love for basketball. His charisma is the reason so many women believe in finding an honourable life partner. He is a part of us, our childhood and our identities. He is a figure who made a mark on your life in some way, shape or form. Even in his last moments, we all know Kobe enough to know that in true Kobe style, he would have made every effort to be the best dad, the most protective dad, the with-you-till-the-end dad to his little girl.
The NBA will never forget him, and “Mamba forever” are now two words that will carry on a legacy that will outlive generations. To those affected by this loss, remember that it’s OK to grieve the loss of somebody who made you feel like you were deserving of the best.
Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant. We cannot, and will not, ever forget you.
____Fanan Hailu is a freelance writer, podcaster and full-time finance professional newly relocated to Toronto. She can be found on Twitter at @seoulfulsatsuma and on Instagram at @seoulful.satsuma.