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Reflections on Kobe Bryant and the American Dream

My father moved to this country when he was 24 on November 12, 1992. The story of his arrival in LA from his small town in India with $20 in his pocket is one I’ve heard at the dinner table many (perhaps too many) times. He had just gotten a job at Disney as a programmer, eager to make it in America.  There wasn’t a lot of American pop culture he knew of and could connect to aside from a few movies, and the extent of his English knowledge at the time was what he learned in high school and taught himself. But sports always made sense. After a long day of work, watching basketball became a natural part of his routine. He likes to describe sports as “the great unifier,” regardless of where you are from or what you know. Basketball was one of the first things that allowed him to connect with his co-workers and find community, and being a Lakers fan - more specifically a Kobe Bryant fan - is what made him feel like he belonged. 

The story of Kobe and the levels of dedication, hard work, passion, and drive that were able to fuel his dreams of being the best in doing what he loved is a story that has inspired millions (and if you know an immigrant dad, you know they make up about 50% of that total). Given my second-generation immigrant upbringing, I couldn’t completely relate to being raised on the Beatles or PB&Js like my friends, but for me, that was the Lakers. I have memories of jumping on the couch with my dad when they won both the 2009 and 2010 championships back-to-back. I grew up hearing my brother and my dad talking about basketball constantly, especially after my brother started playing when he was 5, finding a role model in Kobe himself. I remember my mom complaining about my brother outgrowing his Kobe merch every year faster than she wanted to go shopping for it. 

Kobe made mistakes that we cannot and should not ignore, but as we pass the one-year anniversary of his death, I find myself reminiscing about what Kobe represented to my family and likely to others like mine. My own experiences growing up in America and learning about it’s flawed history has left me with a complicated and untrusting relationship with the idea of the American Dream, but this is what Kobe represented to my dad when he moved to a foreign country alone when he was just 4 years older than I am now. My dad found a role model, and in some ways, a friend, in Kobe Bryant. He perfectly embodied the “great unifier” that my dad always says sports can be, amidst the increasing chaos of the world. This impact is something we have mourned for a year, and it is the legacy we will never forget.

Vibha is a junior majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Forensics and Criminality. She hopes to go to med school in the future and loves reading, sewing, and thrifting in her free time.
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