By David Miller 

Every decade or so, if we are lucky, we are fortunate enough to witness greatness in professional sports. In the pantheon of professional sports, a shortlist of names is echoed as individuals who captured the hearts and minds of generations of sports fans. This special group would include Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ash, Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams just to name a few.

Kobe Bryant’s name has always been synonymous with greatness, a professional athlete with the swag and prowess of other legendary athletes. Bryant warmed our hearts — a tall, lanky kid from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. Drafted in 1996 in the first round by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.

On an unseasonably warm Sunday as I left church, I received a flurry of text messages that Kobe Bryant, was killed in a helicopter accident in California. Affectionately known as the Black Mamba (one of the most dangerous snakes in the world) for Kobe’s powerful dunks, yoyo like crossover dribbles, laser three-point shots and his ability to strike fear in the hearts of NBA defenders.

(Courtesy Photo)

Over the last few days, a montage of videos and other images plastered social media and every other media outlet, sharing the global outpouring of love for Kobe Bryant. His accolades on the court are impressive and rank him as one of the greatest athletes to grace our presence over the last five decades; five-time NBA Champion, seven finals appearances, two-time finals MVP, NBA MVP, eighteen-time NBA All-Star and numerous other achievements–too many to name. 

For several hours I listened to and read condolences from greats like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Hall of Fame Los Angeles Lakers center to celebrated entertainers like Leonardo DiCaprio and R&B crooner John Legend. Each shared a personal reflection about Kobe, the ballplayer, father, husband and mentor. 

For so many players in the NBA, Kobe was a mentor. Coaches like Syracuse University’s basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, talked about Kobe’s work ethic, drive and determination to win on the court. After passing Kobe on the all-time scoring list to move into second place, which would unknowingly be just hours before Bryant’s untimely death, Lebron James spoke of Kobe in an interview, “He had zero flaws offensively…zero. He could shoot the three. He could go around you. He could shoot the midrange. He could post. He could make free throws.”

While Kobe’s on the court performances are legendary, his life off the court was equally impressive. As I shared on Twitter that night, “Kobe was a statesman on and off the court. He personified the kind of character we want for our sons. He was not a perfect man, but a man dedicated to self-improvement.” 

As I reflected on what I wanted to write about Kobe, I thought about the life and legacy of Roberto Clemente. Clemente, a prolific Pittsburgh Pirate, also met a tragic end while in the prime of his life.  He died in a plane crash in 1973 after joining a goodwill mission headed to Nicaragua. Kobe, like Clemente, was deeply concerned about humanity and the global challenges faced by people. 

In the final analysis, Kobe was an engaged, loving family man. Outside of his illustrious career in the NBA, I will remember Kobe as a father, husband, humanitarian, and visionary icon. The images of Kobe with his daughter Gigi, who also lost her life during the tragic helicopter accident, gave us a glimpse into Kobe’s world outside of his NBA career.

Sadly, many are not familiar with Kobe’s commitment to women’s sports, homeless youth in Los Angeles, and several philanthropic efforts in China. Kobe’s vision had expanded to multimedia pursuits and publishing. In 2018, Kobe won an Oscar and an Emmy for Dear Basketball, a six-minute animated film based on a poem about his basketball life. 

If the truest test of a man’s worth is based on the lives he touched, Kobe Bryant lived a rich life fit for a king!

To this end, I’m reminded of Ossie Davis’ immortal words as he eulogized Malcolm X. Davis referred to Malcolm X as our shining Black Prince. Kobe Bryant is our shining Prince as he was loved by his family, friends, professional sports contemporaries, and fans. 

Prayers go out to the Bryant family and the other families affected by the tragic helicopter crash. 

David Miller is the author of Dare To Be King: What If the Prince Lives? and a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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