Kobe Bryant died Sunday, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in southern California as the group traveled to a youth basketball event at an academy he founded. By now you don't need me to relay that horrific news, but a day later it still feels as surreal, as criminally wrong, for me to type those words as it does for you to read them.
The outpouring of collective grief over his passing was a worldwide event on Sunday, and will continue to be in the days, months and years to come. We watched Bryant evolve from a precious teenager into a living legend over the course of his 20-year career as a Los Angeles Laker, but his life was so much more than that. He was an Academy Award-winning filmmaker with a budding career in entertainment, a global ambassador for both men's and women's basketball, and an involved father to his four daughters.
Kobe's untimely passing at just 41 years old transcended basketball, it transcended sports, and it transcended the shores of this nation. The soccer star Neymar's tribute to Kobe -- displaying two and four fingers to cameras after scoring a goal for his French club -- was particularly moving, as was the dedication to him to open last night's Grammy Awards.
Though his life was cut short by a shockingly cruel four decades, Kobe will leave a legacy far beyond his 33,643 points and his five NBA championships. He'll be remembered for a lot of things, but if it was up to him he'd be remembered first for his work ethic. As his career wound down in the middle years of the last decade and it was clear the end of his playing days were near, Kobe said he wanted to be remembered as "a talented overachiever," as someone who worked as if he were born without any of the talent God gave him. Personally, I remember one ESPN story detailing how he was spotted walking through an Orlando hotel lobby at 4 a.m., dripping in sweat, hours after the Lakers had beaten the Magic in an NBA Finals game.
"If everybody played like Kobe, if everybody worked like Kobe, everybody would be great," Ben Collins wrote for SLAMin 2013. "It is that simple. It is also humanly impossible."
Former teammate Byron Scott told Business Insiderthis of finding a then 18-year-old Kobe practicing by himself in a dark gym: "I heard the ball bouncing. No lights were on. Practice was at about 11, it was probably about 9, 9:30. And I go out to the court and I look, and there's Kobe Bryant. He's out there shooting in the dark. And I stood there for probably about ten seconds, and I said, 'This kid is gonna be great.'"
That maniacal work ethic comes across here in this clip shared Monday by Barstool Sports.
"Practices are meant to be competitive," Bryant says. "If your practices aren't more competitive than the games themselves, you're doing the wrong thing... Phil (Jackson) never gave us a light day. There's no days off. You show up and you work in practice, and practices are going to be worse. They're going to be more physical, there's going to be more trash talking, and if you didn't show up today I'm going to let you know. It's going to be embarrassing and you're going to hate it, but when Game 7 rolls around in the NBA Finals, you will be prepared."
That work ethic, the Mamba Mentality -- Kobe was many things, a self-mythologizing marketer among them -- will be his ultimate legacy, and it started before he was even gone.
Kobe Bryant was 41 years old.