Dear Kobe Bean Bryant,
On Sunday, January 26th, 2020 I heard the unspeakable news.
As my daughter slept soundly in her crib, my wife and I couldn’t believe the stories we were reading on our phones. Both in utter disbelief, hoping what were read would be labeled as “fake news” created by an individual for no good reason.
To our dismay, the news was not rumors, they were true.
CNN continued to give updates about the terrible accident and my heart continued to hurt. As I listened to the news anchor speak about your death and the death of your beautiful daughter Gianna “Gigi” Maria-Onore Bryant, and the rest of the people aboard the helicopter, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Although I have only met you once, I’ve watched you my entire life. The thought of you being in that helicopter with your best friend, your daughter, by your side left me speechless and in sorrow. As a man and as a father.
To this day, it still doesn’t register to me that you are gone.
Although the world fell in love with the astounding basketball player you were, I admired the person you were, off the court, a thousand times over, before the man we all called “The Mamba”.
Now don’t get me wrong, what you achieved on the basketball court was beyond greatness. I admired the player you were as well. It wasn’t your witty footwork, or your absolutely unstoppable baseline fadeaway that I tried to emulate growing up. It was the pure dedication and sacrifice you had for the game. You played with such a passion that was unmatched any day out the week. You weren’t only vocal about your daily regiment, others who were close to you in the basketball world echoed these gruesome, but challenging regiments. They made it clear that this work ethic made you the player you became.
So Kobe, I thank you for finding it in me to challenge myself everyday as an athlete. You helped me develop a mentality to get the most out of myself, while playing the game I love. You helped me constantly remind myself that there might be somebody out there outworking me, therefore, I have to push harder to be greater, especially on the bad days.
But the thing that I will never forget as a basketball player is when I met you. I was with the Oregon Duck. We were about to play in the Final Four game against North Carolina. When you walked into the room, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
You were real, I mean actually real.
Watching you on television my whole life, I didn’t think you existed in real life (as crazy as that sounds). Certain people just have special talents on this Earth, and it seems like they live in a world only the privileged, who are like them, live in. You were one of those people to me. I don’t want to sound over the top, but I could have sworn you were glowing. Almost like a superhero when they come to rescue the citizens they are about to save at the last minute.
I really couldn’t believe it was you.
After your speech, you gave us time to ask you any questions we had. There were so many things I wanted to ask you. I found myself cutting off my teammates when it was their turn to ask a question, but I was, and still am, unapologetic for that because this was a once in a lifetime moment for me.
You were unbelievably welcoming. Almost to the point that I questioned your “Mamba Mentality”. How could somebody switch gears so easily? How could you be such a kind, generous guy in person, but an absolute pitbull on the court? I was so intrigued by your mental makeup.
Luckily you told my team and I the secret. You said (paraphrased); “You have to eliminate your emotion from the game. Block it all out. You know what you bring to the table. You’ve worked on it, now it's time to put it in action”.
I’ve never forgotten those words.
I used to struggle with just that. Finding a balance to be a kind and caring human being off the court, but also find a way to be an absolute killer on the court. It was hard to try and be two people in one. But hearing what you said, I was able to work on that, and become damn good at it.
I was able to switch roles when I needed to. I was able to create an alter ego on the court. Be a player who could use his passion and edge to do whatever it took to win. But then click out of it when the game is over and go back to being the fun, enthusiastic family man and friend that people knew me for.
Just like you.
People knew you as Kobe Bryant, the kind husband, father, and friend. But they also knew you, on the court, as “The Black Mamba”. The basketball player, who would sting you with his deadly poison, without hesitation, if that’s what he needed to do in order to win.
You encouraged me to become the best basketball player I could be, by mastering a mentality only a few could develop.
As I switch gears I would like to say, as I did previously in this letter, that I respected you with the highest honor as a basketball player, but what I most admired about you was what you represented off the court as a man, mentor, and father.
Kobe the Man
Although I didn’t know you personally, and would never claim to have, I am speaking from what I’ve seen and heard. I watched you retire as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and what do you do, you get started on another amazing journey, as a retired professional athlete.
Personally, I don’t think it's talked about enough, but a lot of athletes are terrified to think about life after basketball. A lot of athletes play their respected sport their entire lives, then when it comes to an end, they don’t know what to do. They have no plan.
I watched an interview in which you said, retirement didn’t scare you because you have been planning for retirement since the day you became a professional at the age of 18.
You made it known that you invested in many different companies from Dell to Epic Games. Not only putting your money into things, but you studied and learned how to manage your money through investments. You didn’t just hire somebody to do all the work for you.
You also wrote books. Something I aspire to do one day. Allowing the world to see that your greatness was not just a physical gift, but a mental one too.
And let’s not forget that you won an Oscar.
With your short animated film called Dear Basketball, expressing your love for basketball from a young age. People have worked their entire lives trying to accomplish such an amazing feet, and you did it within a few years of putting the ball down.
But what really ascended you to a level of absolute stardom in my books, was your involvement in pushing the women’s game of basketball forward. You used your time and resources to fight for equality for women playing the game of basketball as well as young girls aspiring to play at the highest level one day.
We all recognize that the women’s game needs more respect among society, but not many, who have the power to help, are doing anything about it. But you were.
From starting your own girls team for your daughter Gigi (RIP), to attending collegiate games to support women’s teams, to shedding a light on the WNBA, creating interest for all to watch the talent professional women have. You were a pioneer in helping the women’s game, and I hope more will do the same.
As a father, I have a daughter, who is only 9 months at the moment, yet I believe, there is a 99.9% chance that she will play the game of basketball. Not only does her father play professionally, but her mother, my wife, played collegiate basketball as well in the past.
Because of the interest you sparked in the girls/women’s game, I thank you, because one day, hopefully when my daughter is playing basketball at the highest level (if that’s what she truly wants to do), the women’s game will be as prominent to the world as it should be.
Through all of this, you have shown me that when the orange ball stops bouncing, life isn’t over, it's just getting started.
Kobe the Mentor
You are one of the greats, with generational knowledge of the game and you weren’t afraid to share it with the ones who came after you. Name the superstars; Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the list goes on, you helped them drive their own cars down their own road to greatness. You didn’t allow your ego to play a role in helping the betterman of another man/player. You paid it forward without any reservation. That speaks volumes about your character in itself.
To add, you didn’t only help the uncommonly gifted, you also assisted all who aspired to be superstars in their own right. From WNBA players, to collegiate athletes (like myself when I met you), all the way down the line to young children who may not even know who “Kobe with the fro” was from back in the day. You were never hesitant to share the tools that made you great, no matter who your student was.
You were truly a teacher to all.
Kobe the Father
This was my favorite Kobe of them all. Your basketball talents were unspeakable, but the father you were, as far as the public could see, would trump the player you ever were (and that’s saying a lot).
They say the numbers are staggering on the amount of professional athletes that go into depression when they retire. However, it seemed as if your daughters fueled you into even more happiness as you approach the retirement stage in your life. Although I could bet that you spread your love equally between all your daughters, the bond you had with Gigi touched me more than any other professional athlete I’ve seen with their child(ren).
Maybe I am biased because I just became a #GirlDad, who sees himself training his daughter, just like you did. Men push to have boys, and sometimes focus more on them because of the athletic connection they will share a bond over, but you made it cool for your daughter to carry that legacy on.
Coaching her teams, training her one on one, taking her to college and professional games to teach her, but most of all, bonding with her over something you both love was a beautiful sight.
To say it looked like you two were best friends would be an understatement. You two were attached at the hip. You saw Kobe, you saw Gigi. You saw Gigi, you saw Kobe.
Yes, I do plan to have other children, God willing, whether they are boys or girls, I strive to have the same connection you and Gigi had.
A father who smiles with pure joy every time he looks at his child.
A child who looks up to their father, not only as a professional athlete, but more as a genuine human being.
When I first heard that Gigi was involved in the crash with you, it broke my heart in a million pieces. As a father, I can’t imagine what you went through in those final moments trying to do everything you could to save her life. Every time I think about the accident, or am reminded about it, those last seconds play in my head, giving me a sick feeling.
She didn’t deserve this, and neither did you.
I pray everyday, when I wake up, throughout the day, and before I go to sleep, as I have an unbelievably strong faith in God. I wouldn’t ever lose faith, yet, there are extreme times in which I may question the things in which the Lord does.
This was one of those times.
This has affected so many people, but most importantly, your wife and your daughters, and I am so very sorry for that. I pray for Vanessa Laine Bryant. I pray God gives her the strength to heal as a wife and as a mother. To raise her daughters the best way she can with all the support she needs.
I also pray for your other daughters. Natalia Diamante Bryant, Bianka Bella Bryant, and Capri Kobe Bryant. I pray that God gives them the strength to heal as children and as sisters. To remember their father as a great man that would want them to grow up to be happy. And to remember their sister as a companion that will always be with them throughout their own life's.
There is not a single explanation that a human being on this Earth can give me on why this was part of God’s plan. The only one who could truly explain it to me is God himself.
I pray that you and Gigi, walk into the gate of heaven together. Where you both will be able to continue loving each other unconditionally. Continue to build the unbreakable bond that you had while you were here. But also be able to watch down on your family, sending them messages that we give them reassurance that you are still with them.
And lastly, I pray you and Gigi can play the game you both loved, together, for eternity.
RIP to all the victims who were on the helicopter.
I pray for you all and your families.
Payton Chester, 13
Sarah Chester, 45
John Altobelli, 56
Alyssa Altobelli, 14
Keri Altobelli, 46
Christina Mauser, 38
Ada Zobayan, 50
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