Last Tuesday, the UMW community gathered at the Goolrick auxiliary gym to pay homage to Kobe Bryant. Bryant died Sunday, Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash that also took the lives of his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers. He was 41 years old and had retired from the NBA just four years ago in 2016 after 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The commemoration took place in the form of a two-hour pickup basketball game hosted by Campus Recreation, providing UMW students the chance to come together and remember Bryant through basketball. People came to just shoot a basketball, or play two on two pickup games with their friends. A massive purple and gold banner hung on the wall with a giant “24” in the center. It was left blank to allow everyone in attendance to write down their favorite Kobe Bryant moment.
Some people wrote down his 81 point game against the Toronto Raptors as their favorite moment. Some people wrote about the 5 championships he won. Some people wrote about his “no-flinch” moment when Matt Barnes pump-faked a basketball directly into Bryant’s face, and Bryant didn’t even blink. What all students could agree on, though, is that there are a lot of great Kobe moments to choose from.
Over the course of his career he won one MVP Award, five NBA Championships, two Finals MVP awards, was selected to the All-Star Game 18 times, currently holds the fourth-highest career point total in NBA history with 33,643 points, and is the only player to have multiple numbers retired by the same franchise– Bryant wore both 8 and 24 in his time with the Lakers. His daughter Gianna, 13, who took after her father in talent and spirit, was on track to join the WNBA and have an incredible basketball career as well.
“It’s tough because he has had a ton of phenomenal moments,” said Zane Burk, a junior majoring in communication when asked to pick his favorite Bryant moment. “What’s pretty amazing to me was his last game where he dropped 60 points because it’s unbelievable that at the age…he was still able to come and drop 60. And a good 60 too. He won his team the game.”
Walker Stokes, a junior majoring in communications, pointed to a moment from Bryant’s retirement as his favorite. “He had a conversation with Shaquille O’Neal, basically talking it out, how they had struggles. Even after Kobe having an amazing career like that, it was more than just basketball with him. It was about personal relationships and it was about setting a good example for younger athletes.”
For other people, it wasn’t just about Bryant’s relationships, it was about the relationships that his playing helped them form. Rahima Morshed, a senior majoring in sociology, spoke about Bryant’s effect on her personal relationships, saying that when she heard about Bryant’s death, she thought about her dad.
“He and I would go to Lakers games a lot. My dad, he loved Kobe. He wasn’t a Lakers fan, but Kobe was a special player.” She also talked about how Bryant’s worldwide influence played a part in her relationships with her friends saying that “I have friends in Jordan and Nigeria and growing up, Kobe was their idol.”
Not everyone, however, remembered Bryant’s playing career with fondness. “I used to hate him when he used to play against Gilbert Arenas on the Wizards,” said former UMW student Matthew Mohr, who came back to campus to shoot around at Bryant’s pickup game with his friends. “Back when he wore #8, I used to hate him.”
That’s how everyone felt watching Bryant play against their favorite team–frustrated, even miserable. It was difficult to not resent his force on the court, but impossible to not respect his craft.
“My immediate reaction was ‘this can’t be real’,” Mohr said, speaking about his reaction to Bryant’s death. “It’s Kobe Bryant. He’s on everyone’s top 3 greatest players list. At least the top 5. Minimum.”
Bryant’s greatness wasn’t just contained within the world of basketball. Bryant’s reach went throughout all of the sports. Rachel Porchie, a junior majoring in English who plays on UMW’s softball team says that Bryant is an influence on her game and her life.
“Kobe is a reminder of what it takes to be great. How to find something you love and give yourself away to it. His ‘mamba mentality’, to constantly try to be the best version of yourself, is always something I keep in my mind while competing.”
Bryant was one of the greatest and most influential basketball players of our generation. Some players were better than him, sure. But what made Bryant special was his relationships. He inspired a generation of athletes to always pour their souls into whatever they do. He was a phenomenal athlete, a great teammate and a loving father.