I never thought I would be writing this to you and the many who are utterly heartbroken today. But we are here, and even though I have tears in my eyes and something in my throat, I want to use this opportunity to celebrate you and let the world know how you motivated me to take my hustle to the next level.
November 2016, I wrote a piece about you celebrating the fact that you had decided to retire. As a life long Boston Celtic fan and a life long committed Laker’s hater, I was excited – I love you as a man, but as a player on the team I hated the most, you were my enemy when it came to going up against the Celtics.
For life-long basketball followers, we all also knew and I couldn’t help but think that basketball without you is going to be like Nando’s without the chicken. It will be boring. But basketball without you is heartbreaking.
Over the years, I have had the great opportunity to meet, talk and interview you on many occasions and each time, I have walked away knowing that, the game of basketball is bigger than the court, our local communities and our platforms. But instead, a tool that should enable everyone to do better in everything they do while helping others who may have lesser voices.
In 2016, we had a phone interview, where you had informed me that you had read my piece for TRUE Africa and you let me know that, my hate for the Laker’s is just an imagination. In that same call, you inspired me to become more prominent than what I believed I could be – you jokingly called me “The British Oprah Winfrey of Sport.” At the time, I laughed and nervously carried on with my interview. But you know what, I went on to start believing in my talents because of you.
Kobe, we have all grown up wanting to be you. My work ethic now is because of you. Two decades, two Olympic gold medals, five championship rings, 17 All-Star selections, an 81-point game that ranks as the second-best in NBA history and more than 32,000 points in total, how could we not be heartbroken without you here?
The ups and downs of your career have made you one of the most intriguing, challenging, influential and inspiring athletes of my time. Kobe Bryant – you are the Michael Jordan of our era.
‘You gave a six-year-old boy Laker dream.
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.’
Reading this letter is in part hard for me because you are one of the biggest villains of my sports fandom. You are the kind of basketball player you love to hate, but you want on your team.
Your toughness, competitive spirit, strong and stubborn views, intelligence, your ethic to work and most importantly, your understanding to help others made you stand out.
I had the unique opportunity to speak to you again during your farewell tour; you talked openly about your reasons for giving up basketball but also about your passion for educating the younger players in the league and around the world.
Since retiring, basketball hasn’t felt the same even though we have Lebron James, Kwahi Leonard and other rising stars. The games haven’t felt the same. Although you didn’t initially want to retire because playing ball is life for you, your body was telling you it’s time;
‘It feels great. I don’t consider it to be a farewell tour, but it has been beautiful. Paying respect to the fans and in turn, they are doing the same after 20 years of playing. It’s like me saying thank you to them and them saying thank you back. How to deal with failure, how to deal with people, how to deal with success, compassion; those are the things I will take with me.’
Players and coaches alike lined up to pay their respects to you, some of whom who hated you for decades, cheering and chanting your name as you bowed out for the last time at their arenas. With all this said, you can’t help but wonder how you felt about walking away from the sport but also the legacy you left behind.
One legacy you have left behind is the inspiration you gave to my women and girls in standing up for us and showing other male allies how it should be done. For me, you were an icon and the best mentor and male ally in the sport. You helped me see what I had been conditioned to ignore – the fact that as a black African British woman in sport, I could create change and also impact the world in my own way. The same impact you had taught Gigi and in her own way, started to find her own way to becoming one of the greats in future. Gigi was you, your twin and for many young girls, she was also an inspiration.
I will never forget the times where you have cleared media out of the way because I was the shortest in the crowd to allow me to ask questions. I will never forget you taking the time out to come and say hello at every NBA event I have been at, and I will always remember the wise words of “Benny, hit the roof and then keep going because people with mamba mentality like us never sleeps.”
Thank you Kobe “Bean” Bryant. Look after Gigi for us and in your next life, dominate the way to dominated here with us all with Gigi as your co-driver. Your legacy will forever live on with me and many others, globally – Love always.