The death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant at the age of 41 Sunday sent shockwaves through the sports world. Bryant built an on court legacy that not only set him apart from his peers, but also established him as a hero and role model to athletes from all over.
At Hahnville, both the boys and girls varsity basketball squads are enjoying seasons Bryant would be proud of, the Lady Tigers 20-4 overall and the boys 17-8, each also unbeaten in district competition. Like so many others this week, players and coaches at the school found themselves hit hard by the news of the helicopter crash that claimed the former Los Angeles Lakers star’s life.
“As fans, we lost a legend. But his wife lost a husband. The kids lost a father,” said Hahnville girls basketball coach Arrianna Smith. “It makes you consider, in a spiritual sense, that God has our time set and it can end at any time, so live for that moment. Live for today. I think Kobe did that. He did it on the court, did it through his kids and, when he retired, through what he did in his community. I think he lived the life he wanted for himself.”
Bryant was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and six family friends to a basketball game at Bryant’s Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. The crash had no survivors, including the helicopter’s pilot.
“Hearing that news was disturbing, disappointing and incredibly sad,” Smith said. “It makes you think about your family. My little girl and I, we work together and have that same kind of relationship … he spent his last moments with his daughter, and you wonder what was it, at that last minute, they had together, knowing it possibly was the end. My heart hurts for it, mostly for his family.”
On the Hahnville boys team, players said they were shocked to hear the news.
“Gone too soon,” said Hahnville center Kaden Pierre. “You never thought he’d be gone so early. He’s just one of those guys you’d almost think would live forever.”
Pierre called Bryant an inspiration to him as an athlete.
“He always has been. His work ethic, especially,” Pierre said. “I want to work like he did.”
Tigers’ wing Tyren LeBeauf said he also took inspiration from the legendary guard.
“It was sad. I really looked up to Kobe,” LeBeauf said. “I’ve watched a lot of his film, at the way he shoots and his technique, and try to match what he does.”
Bryant retired in 2016 after a 20 year career in which he became one of the most decorated athletes in the history of pro sports. He was a five time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning three of those rings alongside LSU alumnus and fellow legendary superstar Shaquille O’Neal. Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star, a two-time Finals MVP and one-time regular season MVP, an 11-time All-NBA First Team selection and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
His post basketball life was proving quite successful as well. Bryant proved to be multitalented, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (Dear Basketball). Prior to his death, he was in the midst of working on another project with Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, the two collaborating on a book aimed at inspiring underprivileged children.
Hahnville boys basketball coach Yussef Jasmine has been a longtime fan of Bryant, who he said he’s followed closely since his teen years.
“We graduated high school the same year, so I’ve been following Kobe ever since,” Jasmine said. “He’s a legend.”
He spoke with his players Tuesday about what made Bryant who he was, focusing not on the player’s natural talent or athletic abilities, but instead on the star’s famously relentless drive and work ethic.
“I talked to the guys about him today. I read a quote of his … he made up his mind at the age of 13 that he was gonna put everything he had on the court, every time he touched the court.”
Living through that philosophy, and applying it to other areas of life as well, Jasmine told his players they can carry Bryant’s legacy forward in their own way.
“By taking after his work ethic and giving everything you have every time, to whatever it is you’re doing,” Jasmine said. “We can all follow his legacy by giving our all in everything we do.”