Basketball: Connecting Beyond the Sport

“Hey, you want to play basketball with us?” This is the question I’d hear at recess in elementary school that brought immense happiness to my day. 

I loved playing with my guy friends as we conversed about the latest NBA game, the dribbles of the ball synchronized with our passionate voices, while the love for the sport became evident. The competitiveness of our natures built our relationships, connecting us through a similar devotion that we fully embraced within our athletic households. 

My older brothers have always been die-hard basketball fans. We were constantly found in our living room talking about NBA players past and present, from Julius Erving to Lebron James. My brothers were on basketball teams in high school and would compete against players who are currently in the NBA, and my brothers certainly believed they had the potential to make it too.

When I was on my basketball team in elementary school, I idolized NBA players. My hair was always braided into cornrows as a young girl, and sometimes I thought I was Allen Iverson, who was constantly judged for his self-expression and supposed lack of professionalism. He was ridiculed for having braids and tattoos, resembling the appearance of men within street culture, which was frowned upon. He refused to let the NBA control his personality, simply because dress shoes and suits were never his style. They brought this kind of determination and motivation to the court and made young viewers feel like me feel we were unstoppable. But one specific NBA player made me feel exceptional: the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

Kobe was a five-time NBA Champion that exerted modesty, and never seemed condescending. He was a man of fairness, who encouraged girls to play basketball - an often male-dominated sport. Kobe gifted opportunities, and he fulfilled his dream of becoming impactful to society. He always wanted to be memorable and his dedication to basketball would inspire viewers to work relentlessly on their crafts. 

By opening up the Mamba Academy, he demonstrated that he appreciated women and our perseverance. Kobe was surrounded by women throughout his entire life, being exposed to their resilience in the face of discrimination. A man who didn’t support patriarchy, he believed women should reject the conception of fulfilling gender roles. That women are not subjected to being quiet, obedient and gentle nurturers. 

Why can’t I be considered strong, independent, and athletic like men? I’ve been expected to indulge in stereotypes that misrepresent me and have been constructed by sexism. We’ve been conditioned to perpetuating sexist oppression, regulated by society that controls our movements. Kobe was an ideal role model to young kids. 

Every time I threw something in the garbage I yelled, “Kobe!” and it didn’t matter how many times I missed. I would go pick up trash, walk back to that same spot and shoot until I got it in. 

I believed he was immortal and the definition of self-awareness, knowing how to choose practice over having fun. Minimal effort is never required to attain greatness, and the diligence that Kobe had off the court has undoubtedly paid off. The reminder that nothing comes easy without hard work, that discipline is the key to achieving your goals. 

I had a friend in elementary school who has the same birthday as Michael Jordan, and whenever I’d bring it up to our friends he’d look at me and say, “And she has the same birthday as Kobe Bryant.” That would force a huge smile on my face which would stretch from ear to ear. To me, Kobe explained that the depth of your struggle will determine the height of your success. No matter who you are, you face obstacles. But your courage to overcome them will decide the contentment you’ll ultimately have in your life.  

A legend becomes one not through what’s tangible, but rather intangible. Leading us to forget they're human, just like us. I hope that Kobe realized the influences he made on plenty of lives, and that he was more than just his achievements in basketball. 

~ Rest in Eternal Peace Mamba.