Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Kobe’s Cape

First and foremost, before I go on a spiel about Kobe Bryant, I’d like to send my condolences to the families and friends of Ara Zobayan, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser and Sarah and Payton Chester for their losses after the dolorous helicopter crash that killed nine people. Amongst these nine people, Bryant and his daughter Gianna were victims as well. May their loved ones be blessed to find solace amidst these tumultuous and turbulent times and may they rest in peace.

Just as heart-deflating and painful is the death of Bryant’s daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant. Not solely because of her death, but also the prospect of her future. At only 13-years-young, Gianna, as well as her two teammates aboard the aerial craft, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, had yet to experience the natural maturation and ups and downs of high school with prom, homecoming games, basketball road trips and graduation. She had yet to experience college’s independence — experiencing life outside the confines of their parents’ household —, free to explore the world and all its beauty and ugliness. She had yet to discover her life after college. The countless steps they’d yet to take. 

Essentially, Gianna had so much to look forward to in life. Fans were spoiled by Kobe Bryant for 20 years. Their family only had him for four and a half years.

Those 20 years.

In that time frame, I was born; I matured from infant, to adolescent, to man, with Kobe retiring in April, five months before my 18th birthday. The priceless trinkets engraved into my heart; from forged bonds to undying memories, Kobe was one of the sole rods that somehow every conversation seemingly gravitated towards, especially when it came to basketball.

His shadow still looms past the glimmering, starry night sky of Los Angeles and extends over Southern California, long after the days when he was in the bright lights. His vibrant aura illuminated the gargantuan region; no matter the occasion, day or night, Kobe’s impact was indelible for anyone that grew up watching him play.

I did not have stickers of Superman on my backpack nor did I have superhero video games. I never had posters of heroes on my wall. I didn’t idolize Spiderman, I didn’t follow Marvel or DC comics heavily; Kobe was my superhero. He’s the one whose cape I had on my back. The one whose name I was screeching with tears when the Lakers won the championship, as I did on his retirement night and as I did when I learned of his passing. It was his number that I had on the back of my phone case even when it wasn’t for the right phone, but I made it fit. Even as he faded into the dimming limelight of his career. He  was the one I identified as my favorite player and I defended him against naysayers. I didn’t cry when Iron Man died in Endgame; I cried watching God’s script unfold during Kobe’s retirement night. 

Kobe was that integral for an ocean of people, not exclusively in Southern California, but stretching to the Eastern hemisphere of the world, in China, the Philippines and Africa. Kobe was felt everywhere.

People always say, “Heroes come and go, but legends never die.” The living legend known as Kobe Bean Bryant is gone, but the cape of our hero is embedded onto our backs, the picture of our hero seared into our heart, the memory engraved into our minds. In our eyes, our hero has been immortalized.

As much as a recluse as he was portrayed to be, as much of a divisive, polarizing enigma as he was painted to be by media outlets, we didn’t want to be Michael Jordan; we wanted to be Kobe. Even as my generation aged and understood Kobe was a carbon copy of Jordan, we didn’t care. We practiced his moves because we saw him; we recreated his moments; we dedicated shots in the trash can, fading in a rolling chair, exclaiming, “Kobe!” as we shot, make or miss.

Reflecting, I still look up to Kobe. I am mesmerized by his movements, his knowledge and his approach to perfection, even if he could only reach excellence; maybe I never realized that this “imperfection” made him human, even when Kobe was performing superhuman stunts. Maybe I never wanted to accept it. Sometimes, when a tragedy like this happens, it offers perspective into widely believed notions. For this one in particular, it was Kobe’s infallibility and seemingly immortal presence. Even after he tore his achilles, Kobe walked to the free throw line and sank two free throws and then walked back to the locker room with his own willpower. Even when Kobe had back spasms, he mustered the will to play up to his superstar standard against marquee matchups. Even when Kobe had tendonitis and a broken finger that forced him to restructure his jumpshot, he was still crowned champion, winning the 2009-2010 NBA championship and winning 2010 Finals MVP.

Thinking back on it, all these occasions lent himself to being human. The mental fortitude to accept his body, his faults and his pains through the mounting vicissitudes, and his ability to charge forward to adapt, evolve and change to each era of basketball appeared superhuman because he personified and was emblematic of it so often. We always pondered, “how do you continuously fall to get back up stronger?” Off the court, Kobe had a rape charge against him that left an ugly, marred scar on his image, yet he was able to rebuild it, became a big proponent of women’s sports and one of the biggest proponents of the WNBA. Kobe made some incendiary remarks about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, but later learned from what he said and ultimately supported and donated to the African-American museum in Washington D.C.

Most people identify superheroes with animations, fictional figments of someone else’s imagination. Not to say they don’t hold importance, but the pain simmers in your bones differently when your hero passes and you know he can’t be redrawn or have another story to retell or be revived. Kobe was human. I’ve come to appreciate his humanity more and more as time passes after his death. He was the embodiment of pushing yourself to the brink, maximizing all you have and squeezing out every drop of juice out of the orange. He was the personification of not only the ability to change, but the want to, not only for the betterment of society and family, but for himself. 

Thank you, Kobe. Thank you.

Nduati Macharia is a Staff Writer. He can be reached at hmachari@uci.edu.