August 24, which is now known as “Mamba Day”, coincidentally comes a day after Kobe Bryant’s actual birthday, August 23. It rightfully extends the celebration of the life of one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball, but it somewhat comes with a somber tone.
By the time you read this, it’s been 575 days since Kobe tragically passed away, along with his daughter Gigi and seven other souls. So much has happened since then (Yes, I’m talking about you, 2020) and yet his death (and that of those who were with him on that ill-fated day) is still something hard to swallow.
How Bryant’s death happened and the circumstances surrounding it certainly factors into the shock and sadness that it still evokes, but out of the tragedy comes the realization of a legacy that is almost unparalleled.
Kobe’s influence still hovers over basketball circles and pop culture, so much so that at times it feels as if he’s still with us. Perhaps what also comes into play is that the current generation of hoopers along with working class citizens saw him grow from a young high school prodigy into a legend and global icon. The 20 years he spent with the Los Angeles Lakers was not lost on the city of LA, who treated him as a son who built himself from the ground up, something that also endeared him to a worldwide audience.
His fingerprints continue to be all over the game and it’s hard not to see why. He finished his career with five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, 15 All-NBA selections, and a host of other accolades during his 20-year career.
Among others, the largest impact Bryant has had on the game was keeping the midrange shot alive. As we’ve seen especially in last season’s playoffs, the midrange isn’t dead. Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Jayson Tatum, and Khris Middleton are just some of the stars that have bucked the trend of sticking to threes and point-blank range baskets in favor of diversifying their repertoire with jump shots that may be numerically worth less than 3-pointers, yet continue to have a major impact on the outcomes of games.
Even current Laker stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis have not shied away from taking midrange jumpers. The midrange now forces defenses to cover more ground and not just focus on what current conventional standards offer. With the variety offered by the midrange, things open up for everyone and it can also provide the steady shots needed to close tight games down the stretch.
The influence Kobe has on these players goes beyond where they score; players have taken a page out of his book when it comes to how they approach the game. Players who have sought and heeded Bryant’s advice trained with the Laker legend at one point, benefited from the knowledge and the Mamba Mentality they picked up. Booker has taken Kobe’s advice to heart so much so that he had it tattooed to his arm. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who recently led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title in 60 years, referenced Bryant multiple times after winning Finals MVP honors.
Tatum, another Kobe disciple who ironically plays for Lakers’ arch rival Boston Celtics, displays the footwork and desire to take over in crunch time that Bryant displayed for much of his career. In fact, the 2020 Olympic gold medallist has already thrust himself in the same postseason discussions as the Black Mamba. All that’s missing for the former Duke Blue Devil is an NBA title.
Kobe’s basketball impact goes beyond the court, as his shoes remain as popular as ever, rivaled only by the shoes of His Airness and “big brother” Michael Jordan. The Zoom Kobe IV and V were released more than a decade ago, but they are arguably among the most used shoes in the NBA, if not, the entire basketball playing world. Of course his later shoes have also made reappearances, but it’s the IV and V that continue to withstand the test of time.
Some of the aforementioned NBA players have also worn Bryant’s shoes during the course of the last two seasons, with Booker, Middleton, and Demar Derozan coming up with colorful PEs of the shoe. Social media is also awash with Bryant’s kicks from both Nike and Adidas, with some non-Nike endorsers even customizing their kicks in honor of the Black Mamba and his daughter Gigi. It’s safe to say that if not for contractual obligations, more players would probably be wearing his shoes.
Even in the Olympics, a tournament where Kobe added to his legend, players from different countries wore various editions of Bryant’s shoe. During the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, the USA, Argentina, and Australia were just some of the teams that had players sporting one of the revolutionary sneakers in the game.
Let’s not forget that his shoes easily sell out the moment they are released, albeit in limited quantities, drawing the anger of Kobe’s wife Vanessa and perhaps factoring into the non-renewal of the contract with Nike that virtually put an end to Nike’s Kobe-related merchandise.
Even in death, Bryant continues to inspire the next generation of basketball players, fans, and everyday man. Whether it’s how to take on daily challenges or simply being the best Girl Dad, it’s all about doing things to the best of your abilities when all is said and done.
#MambaForever has taken on a whole new meaning with Kobe Bryant having passed on. Resting in the end was something he emphasized back when he was still alive, and now as he does so, it’s safe to say his legacy carries on.